Three teens, ages 14, 15, and 17, are facing felony charges for pot possession in the U.S. state of Washington, where recreational marijuana possession is legal.
According to NPR, a lesser-known provision in a new law, SB 5052, which was aimed at consolidating taxes and regulations between the state’s medical and recreational marijuana industries, has stiffened the penalty for pot possession by individuals under 21 from a misdemeanor punished by up to 90 days in jail to a class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Jaime Smith, a spokesperson for Democratic Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee, said in comments cited by The Associated Press, “I can only tell you that this was not the intention that the governor had when working with legislators on this bill.” Smith added, “There are other ways to [discourage marijuana use by minors] without charging them with felonies.” Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law earlier this year.
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), who sponsored the bill, said that the provision was intended to discourage minors from using marijuana. “We have to send a message to our kids: This will hurt you in more ways than one if you decide to participate,” she said.
The Lewiston Tribune notes that the three teens are facing charges in Asotin County, which borders Idaho. Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols pointed out the fact that they are the first to be charged under the new law and explained its effect, “If you are a minor, a person under 21, [marijuana possession] is a felony no matter what.” Nichols later appeared open to downgrading the teens’ charges to misdemeanors.
Nichols said that if lawmakers were to repeal the provision, the teens currently facing charges could have their expected convictions vacated by the court after the fact.
Rick Laws, an Asotin County public defender assigned to represent one of the teens, said that hard prison time is “an awfully high price for a few people to have to pay for faulty legislative work.”
Back in September of last year, Ben Swann released a Truth in Media episode exposing the federal government’s mixed messages on medical marijuana. Watch it in the below-embedded video player.