Mike Padden.jpg
Sen. Mike Padden (R- Spokane Valley) is a sponsor of SB 5010
It has long been accepted that Washington judges should have the authority to

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Bill That Would Allow Judges to Prohibit Probationers From Smoking Weed Meets Resistance

Mike Padden.jpg
Sen. Mike Padden (R- Spokane Valley) is a sponsor of SB 5010
It has long been accepted that Washington judges should have the authority to prohibit convicted felons on probation from consuming alcohol on a discretionary basis. But with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults in our state, should the same hold true for pot?

If a bill currently simmering in Olympia - SB 5010 - has its way, the answer is yes. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden (R- Spokane Valley) and supported by the likes of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, SB 5010 aims to give judges the authority to prohibit probationers from smoking weed in just the same way they can currently prohibit alcohol consumption.

The Senate Committee on Law and Justice summary of the bill spells it out: "When a court sentences an offender to a term of community custody, the court imposes conditions. Some of these conditions are mandatory, some are waivable, and some are discretionary. Refraining from possessing or consuming controlled substances, except by prescription, is a waivable condition. Refraining from consuming alcohol is a discretionary condition. The change to Washington's regulation of marijuana has created some confusion regarding the court's ability to order an offender to refrain from the use of marijuana."

This bill, according to lawmakers, is an attempt to clarify the confusion created by I-502 - and is not an amendment to the initiative.

In testimony heard Jan. 21 in front of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, Lisa Johnson, Supervisor of the Special Assault Unit at the King County Prosecutor's Office, said, like alcohol, marijuana is a "disinhibitor," and its use by parolees could lead to more criminal activity. Specifically, Johnson told the committee she worries that sex offenders might smoke weed and then reoffend.

"Alcohol [is] naturally considered to be a disinhibitor, which poses a particular risk for sex offenders and the individuals we deal with," says Johnson. "Similarly, while I appreciate that the citizens of this state have legalized marijuana, it too is a disinhibitor, and like alcohol the court should have the discretion to control its use for particular offenders - that is to deter future offense and any further offense, and, of course, for the protection of our community."

While giving state judges the ability to bar parolees from smoking weed probably won't work up many of the soccer moms who helped pass I-502, that hasn't stopped people from voicing concerns regarding the proposed legislation. For instance, Ezra Eickmeyer of the Washington Cannabis Association testified in front of the Senate Law and Justice Committee that while overall his association is "neutral" on the proposal, they want to see medical marijuana patients protected from it.

Going further, Ben Livingston of the Center for Legal Cannabis is adamant in his stance that marijuana is fundamentally different than alcohol. Livingston says the attempted legislation is an affront to the will of the voters, as displayed by the state's overwhelming passage of I-502.

"The citizens two months ago voted to make cannabis legal. By passing a law that criminalizes cannabis use two months after the citizens just legalized cannabis use, I think puts anyone in support of such a bill squarely in opposition to Washington state voters," Livingston testified. "I don't understand how that is the first thing on our agenda."

Livingston expounded on his stance in an interview with Seattle Weekly.

"We just legalized cannabis and one of the first things that the legislature wants to do is remove those protections from probationers. That's obviously not what the people wanted. If the people wanted to have I-502 not apply to certain classes of citizens they would have said that," says Livingston. "If they wanted to include probationers they could have said that."

According to Livingston, SB 5010 is a result of "the funny little Republican control of the senate," and an effort that must meet resistance.

"I find the whole argument to be slightly fake," says Livingston of the contention that sex offenders allowed to smoke pot are more likely to reoffend. "I think it's just one test, one little chisel, that they're going to try to start chiseling away at this law.

"Alcohol is a dangerous drug. Pot is not. Pot is fundamentally different than alcohol," Livingston continues. "The argument that sex offenders are disinhibited from raping children is a really shitty one."

While Livingston sees obvious and indisputable differences between alcohol use and marijuana use among parolees, state Sen. Adam Kline (D-Seattle) isn't so sure.

"We do prohibit the recreational use of a legal drug - alcohol - to people who have forfeited a certain amount of their rights by being convicted of a felony," Kline testified. "It's not outlandish or absurd that we do the same for marijuana. I suggest that judges be allowed to distinguish between the two."

SB 5010 is scheduled to be discussed again Jan. 30 during an executive session in the Senate Committee on Law and Justice.

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