Moeller wants to lessen penalties for people caught with illegal drugs

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, will cosponsor a bill next year to reduce penalties for illegal drug possession, he said Friday.

According to state law, those caught with an illegal substance or more than 40 grams of pot are charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Sensible Washington, a political action committee, is pushing for legislation that would make those drug possession charges misdemeanors rather than felonies, and those convicted could only receive up to 90 days in jail.

The bill would not change how the state punishes people who possess drugs with the intent to sell them.

Members of Sensible Washington said in a news release that they are asking several state lawmakers to sign on to their idea. So far, Moeller and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D- Burien, have agreed, the group said.

The goal of the proposal is “to stop labeling people as felons, filling up our prisons and ruining their lives in the process, for possessing a small amount of an illegal substance,” said Anthony Martinelli, a spokesman for the group.

Moeller, a chemical dependency counselor, said the bill would ensure that “the punishment fits the crime better.” He also said that oftentimes those caught with drugs “need treatment. They don’t need incarceration.”

He said that many of the addicts he works with “want to move forward and yet they have a felony drug possession charge. It isn’t helpful to them in their recovery.”

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu is a political writer at The Columbian. Contact her at 360-735-4523 or or or

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