Washington Law Makes Pot Possession a Felony For Minors
One of the most insidious effects of the federal government’s war on drugs has been the human cost. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, approximately 1.5 million people were arrested in 2013 for nonviolent drug arrests, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
When Washington State legalized recreational marijuana, supporters had hoped that legalization would free law enforcement up to focus on more important crimes, like murder or theft. But unfortunately for marijuana supporters, that dream may remain unsubstantiated.
Earlier in the year, the Washington State legislature passed SB 5052, also known as the Cannabis Patient Protection Act. The attempted aim of the bill was to consolidate both the recreational and medicinal marijuana market, but it generated a considerable amount of controversy over how it accomplished that task.
For example, the amount of medical marijuana a patient was allowed to possess was reduced from 15 ounces to one. “It should be to help patients get more access in this new legal market, not less,” Cari Boiter, a medical marijuana patient, told NBC News.
But what many people were unaware of was that buried deep within the Cannabis Patient Protection Act was a small and simple provision that drastically increased the criminal penalties for underage possession of marijuana.
Under existing law, it is now a Class C felony for persons under the age of 21 to possess marijuana for recreational purposes, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Before the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, the maximum punishment for such an offense was 90 days in jail.
“If you are a minor, a person under 21, it’s a felony no matter what,” Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols told the Associated Press. “We have to send a message to our kids: This will hurt you in more ways than one if you decide to participate.”
According to the Lewiston Tribune, three minors, ages 14, 15 and 17, have already been charged with felonies in Asotin County for simple marijuana possession.
Although it is impossible to know the mind of the legislature or the governor, it is unlikely that lawmakers had intended to impose such a stiff punishment for a minor offense. But nonetheless, it has already affected three Washington teenagers.
The legislature could possibly change the bill, but the question of whether lawmakers have the political will to do so remains. Passing SB 5052 was a long and controversial process, and the legislature may be reluctant to revisit such a hot button issue.
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