Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Introduced by GOP State Rep John Fillmore


The voter-approved medical marijuana system doesn't go far enough for one Republican lawmaker.

Under a bill introduced by Representative John Fillmore of Apache Junction, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana -- by anyone -- would become a petty offense and carry a fine of only $100.

Fillmore says that pot isn't a gateway drug, as critics claim, and all the money and time wasted by law enforcement on marijuana prohibition enforcement would be better spent elsewhere. Fillmore's legislative District 23 covers most of Pinal County and parts of Maricopa.

He says he's currently researching how much money his bill would save the state.

We figure it must cost Arizona courts and law enforcement tens of millions of dollars each year, easy, to prosecute thousands of pot users. (The vast majority are charged with misdemeanors.)

Fillmore also worries about the "young people" who get busted for experimenting with pot, often ending up with arrest and conviction records.

"This would protect them from having that blemish," he says.

He hasn't begun pushing the bill very hard yet, and so far the reception among his GOP colleagues has been "a lot of smiles and laughs," he says.

The successful passage of HB 2228 would be a major change for Arizona, which is one of the few states in which simple possession could be charged as a felony.

As we pointed out in our 2007 article about the U.S. Border Patrol's drug-sniffing dogs on Interstate 8, even a single pot seed may be enough to trigger an arrest. Fines range in the hundreds of dollars even with a misdemeanor conviction, and that's if you don't hire a lawyer to help. The conviction will show up on background checks for years, potentially screwing up a search for a job or rental home.

It's friggin' insane. Why shouldn't pot be as legal as 190-proof Everclear or assault rifles with banana clips?

Fillmore's bill takes an important step toward ending this legal farce. Obviously, though, it's a long shot.

The bill's been assigned the Rules Committee; Fillmore's not sure if it'll get a hearing, much less if it'll end up signed by the governor. He's new to the State Legislature as of this year and still learning the ropes. A couple of weeks ago, Fillmore made national news with a bill to legalize casino games at horse and dog tracks. But he hadn't even contacted racetrack owners about it. Republican leaders quickly shot down the idea.

Maybe he'll find success with this one.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.