Although Washington was one of the first states to repeal prohibition in America, we have seen reports over the past year that indicate some lawmakers are not quite ready to side with the common sense philosophies attached to the legalization of marijuana.
According to the Associated Press, Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols could send three teenagers—ages 14, 15 and 17—to prison for the next five years because they were caught in possession of marijuana. The report indicates that a piece of legislation signed into law this year by Governor Jay Inslee allows him to seek this extremely harsh maximum penalty because the kids were too young to possess the state’s new legal substance.
The legislation that Nichols is referring to is Senate Bill 5052, which was sponsored by Senator Ann Rivers in an attempt to impose a prohibitionary standard on youngsters who choose to smoke weed. The lawmaker said she wants to send a message to kids that marijuana “will hurt you in more ways than one if you decide to participate.”
However, Jaime Smith, a representative for the governor’s office, said that SB 5052, which was intended to regulate the medical marijuana sector, was never intended to allow young children to be nailed against the wall with felony charges over marijuana.
“I can only tell you that this was not the intention that the governor had when working with legislators on this bill,” Smith said.
This law presents a hypocritical conundrum because the state does not treat the minor possession of all its legal substances in the same manner. In fact, the law against minor possession of alcohol and minor consumption, which are very common offenses, are gross misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
But, according to Burg DUI Defense in Seattle, “most people convicted of [minor in possession] do not serve any jail time at all but may be required to pay fines…and receive other burdensome conditions of probation.”
So, while kids in Washington are getting slapped on the wrist for the possession of booze, is it true that the latest pot laws mandate they be thrown in prison for up to five years and receive a felony record?
“Absolutely not,” Prosecutor Ben Nichols told High Times. “You cannot send minors to prison; it’s impossible. The only way that can happen is if they are charged, convicted and sentenced as an adult for a violent offense.”
Nichols said that all three teenagers in this case have since had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors.
“Not a single one of them will serve any time in jail,” he said.
However, Nichols, like many prosecutors across the state, believe lawmakers will need to get serious about clarifying the laws associated with the state’s cannabis market before more of these ridiculous incidents begin to surface.
Unfortunately, lawmakers will have to wait until the next legislative session before any proposed changes to Senate Bill 5052 can be introduced.