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House committee rejects two marijuana bills

OLYMPIA – Efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana use in Washington may have been snuffed out Wednesday as a House committee refused to send either proposal to the floor.

The House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee rejected a bill to legalize and have the state tax, regulate and sell marijuana on a 5-2 vote. An estimate by the Office of Financial Management projected HB 2401 would have netted the state nearly $1.7 billion in taxes and proceeds over the next 10 years, but that didn’t sway committee members.

Minutes later they also turned down, on a 5-3 vote, a proposal to make possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a civil infraction. A person arrested with a small amount of marijuana would pay a fine and not have it show up on their criminal record, but possession of larger amounts or sale of the drug would still be a crime.

Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace and a former Seattle policeman, argued HB 1177 would ease the costs of arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people for small amounts of marijuana: “A lot of prosecutors don’t prosecute these cases anyway.”

The committee’s actions mean voters might change the law themselves with an initiative that’s been filed for the November ballot, Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said.