Evan Marczynski / The AS Review
Imagine walking into a state-run liquor store, picking up a fifth of vodka or rum and then on your way out grabbing an ounce of marijuana.
Or instead, imagine watching a police officer catch someone with marijuana and then write them a ticket instead of placing them in handcuffs.
If a group of Democratic state lawmakers have their way, either one of these possibilities could be reality.
Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of Seattle has introduced a bill in the state House of Representatives that would allow people 21 years of age or older to buy and use marijuana. The measure, titled House Bill 2401, would legalize pot and allow the state to sell it in liquor stores along with alcohol.
Another dozen House Democrats have sponsored a separate bill that would decriminalize marijuana, making the possession of 40 grams or less a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor, meaning people caught with pot would have to pay a fine instead of being arrested.
In December 2009, Rep. Dickerson told Publicola, a Seattle-based news blog, that she doesn’t expect her bill to actually pass, but she would like lawmakers to begin seriously considering the possible benefits of pot legalization.
The bill includes a condition that would create a tax on the sale of marijuana, the proceeds of which would go toward drug education and awareness.
This is not the first time the possibility of legalizing marijuana has come up in the state legislature, but the new measures brought by lawmakers raise questions: What do students think about the movement to legalize marijuana? And, how big of an issue is marijuana use on campus?
Western junior Brian Reynolds, 19, supports the legalization of marijuana and said that since alcohol is legal, pot should be legal too.
Reynolds said he thinks alcohol presents risks that are much worse than those presented by marijuana. He said he does not think marijuana use negatively effects society, but the option of whether or not to use it should be a personal choice, not one decided by the legal system.
“I believe in personal freedom, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” he said.
Reynolds said he thinks pot use is widespread on campus and throughout Bellingham in general. During his first week in town, a random stranger came up to him and offered to sell him some, he said.
Vanessa Handy, 20, a junior, agreed that marijuana use is common at Western, particularly in the dorms, but said she does not support the legalization of pot for recreational use.
“I’m really against the use of drugs,” Handy said. “I just think it’s really unhealthy.”
Handy also based her opposition to marijuana use on her Christian faith, which she said teaches that people should take care of their bodies.
Handy said she thinks marijuana use is a significant problem on campus.
University Police Sergeant Bianca Smith said she did not think marijuana was a major problem at Western, or more of a problem than it would be on any typical college campus.
According to campus police records, from January 2009 to January 2010 there were 31 reports taken involving drugs of some sort. There were 22 reports taken for possession of drug paraphernalia during the same period. University Police did not have records on specific reports regarding marijuana.
Smith said her department works closely with staff in the residence halls to deal with reports of marijuana use. Although marijuana and alcohol are both issues that campus police deal with, Smith said she thinks the residence hall staff treats marijuana use more seriously.
Smith said the possibility of pot legalization or decriminalization would raise issues over how pot would legally be distributed and regulated.
She said she doesn’t think that people are just sitting around waiting for pot to become legal so they can smoke it, or that legalization would lead to an increase in the amount of people who use marijuana.
“People that are using it are going to use it whether it’s decriminalized or not,” Smith said. “I don’t think just because they decriminalize it it’s going to be a free-for-all.”
A marijuana dealer, who agreed to be identified only as M, said marijuana should definitely be legal.
He said he thinks the amount of nonviolent drug offenders in jails throughout the state is ridiculous and the legalization of pot would significantly decrease the amount of money required to maintain courts and prisons.
M said he used to sell between 3 to 4 pounds of marijuana per week, but now he sells much less than that, usually just to his close friends. He said he typically charges $40 for an eighth of an ounce of pot and $280 for a full ounce.
He said if pot were legalized he might stop selling it as much and instead grow it on his own. However, if marijuana is legalized and there still was a market for him to sell pot illegally, he would probably still do it, he said.