The Senate Judiciary Committee looked at bills to decriminalize marijuana possession and to encourage people to call 911 in overdose situations (by protecting them from drug crime prosecution) yesterday. (For more info on the bills themselves, see yesterday's write-up.)
Reception of the bills appeared to break down along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans (minus former Kirkland rep. Toby Nixon) opposed, and Sen. Pam Roach (R, Auburn) providing the crazy.
Senate Bill 5516 - Overdose Prevention
This is basically a Good Samaritan law, protecting people who call 911 in overdose situations from prosecution for drug crimes. (The bill wouldn't protect dealers who sold the overdose victim the drug at a profit.)
The hearing began with a confused Roach questioning a legislative aide about how many ounces of marijuana would be in 40 grams. (Having apparently ignored the bill's lengthy introduction, Roach thought the committee was discussing the pot bill.) Offered Kline, "There are 28 grams to an ounce, as I recall from my old days."
Testifying in support of the bill were ACLU legislative director Shankar Naryan, UW emergency medicine physician Tom Martin, Susan Tracy of the Washington State Medical Association, and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rosa Franklin (D, Tacoma). The Committee also viewed video of House testimony by two Spokane brothers whose younger brother died of an overdose because his friend--who was on probation at the time--was scared to call 911.
Martin lamented the frequency with overdoses go untreated: "Instead of starting first aid on their friends or calling 911...they either run off or they try to provide some sort of first aid that they read about or heard about--putting people in an ice bath or a cold shower, or forcing them to drink milk. All of which are very ineffective and usually end up in a much worse outcome, if not death."
Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, weighed in against the bill, arguing that it wouldn't encourage anyone to call 911 and that it could lead to suppression of evidence in related drug cases, if that evidence was present at the scene of the 911 call. He added that if the bill passes, legislators need to fund public education so people know about it.
Finally, despite the fact that the bill provides immunity only in good-faith emergency calls, Roach worried that teams of criminals could employ lookouts to notify one another when police were coming, and, at just that moment, call 911 to report an overdose and claim their immunity.
Committee chair Adam Kline (D, Seattle) was the bill's primary sponsor until this year. He estimates its chances of getting out of his committee at "better than 50%," but sounds resigned to a long battle. "It's a matter of eroding resistance. It's gonna pass one of these years."
Senate Bill 5615 - Marijuana reclassification
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D, Seattle), would reclassify possession of 40 grams or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor carrying jail time to a civil infraction carrying a $100 fine that can be paid by mail.
The AP wrote a good summary of the testimony, which was overwhelmingly favorable. Surprisingly, neither the prosecutor nor law enforcement lobbies showed up to oppose the bill. That left Roach to initiate this exchange:
Roach: Could someone tell me...over here maybe [gesturing toward legislative staff]...if you were a law enforcement officer and you pull someone over, if they've been drinking, it's a fairly easy thing, there's a breathalyzer...how do you tell if someone has been using marijuana?
Kline: Senator, I'm wondering if that is an appropriate question to direct to staff. It certainly would be for a police officer.
Testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, with the only opposition coming from an obscure anti-drug group, the Washington Association of Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention. Discussion of marijuana as a gateway drug led Kline to quip, "My own experience shows that marijuana is. I used to grow my own dope and now I brew my own beer."
Responded Roach, "It does or it doesn't? I don't get it. It is a precursor?"
Nevertheless, the lack of opposition may simply have been the result of opponents' assumption that the bill doesn't have a chance.
"I think that's exactly what's going on," says Kline. "They assume that since Senator [Jim] Hargrove [D, Hoquiam] is against it or seems to be against it, that it doesn't have a chance. The fact is, we're gonna have an executive action either today or tomorrow, and there may be some surprises. I think it's got a decent shot."