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The big deficit-year push to accelerate drug policy reform continues with today's Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

The committee will be hearing two bills that reformers

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Big Drug Law Reform Bills Get Hearings Today

olympiasunny.jpg
The big deficit-year push to accelerate drug policy reform continues with today's Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

The committee will be hearing two bills that reformers are watching closely. One has been introduced for years and never gotten a floor vote; the other is being introduced for the first time.

Senate Bill 5615 - Marijuana Reclassification

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, would take the eminently sensible step of reclassifying possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor carrying jail time to a civil infraction carrying a $100 fine that can be paid by mail. Some stats provided by the ACLU:

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Testifying in favor will be former Eastside Republican rep. Toby Nixon and former King County Bar Association president John Cary. Likely to oppose the bill are the prosecutors' and law enforcement lobbies, and, of course, Tom Carr.

The bill's companion, House Bill 1177, has yet to score a hearing.

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.)

Sen. Adam Kline has been introducing an overdose prevention bill since 2005, though it never made it further than the Rules Committee. This year, he passed it on to Sen. Rosa Franklin, saying that he thought it was fitting that a nurse be the primary sponsor.

ACLU Drug Policy Director Alison Holcomb, contends that it's important for 5516 to get out of committee so it can be merged with its companion bill, House Bill 1793, as the two contain complementary provisions. The House bill was introduced by Rep. Roger Goodman, who says he got it from the Washington State Medical Association.

Unlike the Senate bill, HB 1793 also provides for the distribution of Naloxone, a drug that works to reverse opiate overdoses. In his testimony before the House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness, Goodman noted that drug overdoses killed more people than car accidents in Washington state last year.

The bills are being opposed by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, who argue that the bills won't accomplish the goal of getting people to call 911.

In his testimony before the House committee, WASPC spokesperson Don Pierce argued that anybody "who has the foresight" to think of the consequences of calling 911 could also destroy the evidence that would be used in a future prosecution. (Seems like a ridiculous claim to this non-cop, given the usually large number of potential witnesses, the difficulty of eliminating all traces of drugs from the crime scene, etc.)

WAPA and WASPC say they are basing their opposition largely on their experiences with the newborn abandonment law, which they say has been unsuccessful in preventing infant abandonment.

Nevertheless, studies have repeatedly identified "fear of police" as "the most significant barrier to the ideal first response of calling emergency services."

 
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