By BRIAN SLODYSKO, Associated Press Writer
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Civil liberties groups, medical marijuana supporters and a smattering of music festival-goers may have reason to rejoice: The Legislature is considering a proposal that would effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
A bill proposed by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, would reduce the penalty for possessing marijuana in quantities of 1.4 ounces or less to a civil infraction carrying a $100 fine.
"Marijuana has been demonized and has been demonized in such an overboard manner," Kohl-Welles said Tuesday.
Currently, possession of small amounts of the leafy drug is a misdemeanor offense, warranting arrest and carrying the possibility of punishment with fines and jail time.
If Kohl-Welles' bill is approved, possession of marijuana would no longer be an offense subject to arrest. However, teenagers younger than 18 would still be subject to current law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.
"Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, tobacco or caffeine," said former state Rep. Toby Nixon, R-Kirkland, testifying before the committee. "The most dangerous thing about marijuana is the possibility of getting arrested for its possession... I don't think it's the devil weed that many say that it is."
Civil liberties groups support the measure, saying law enforcement officers should focus on more serious crimes.