Washington Prosecutors Drop Marijuana Cases in Anticipation of Legal Pot

Yesterday I discussed the possibility of a federal lawsuit seeking to block state-licensed pot shops in Colorado and Washington. But even if plans for commercial distribution get hung up in the courts, those states' legalization initiatives will have a positive impact by eliminating arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana. In fact, Washington's Initiative 502, which does not officially take effect until December 6, is already helping pot smokers avoid prosecution. Last week prosecutors in King and Pierce counties (which include Seattle and Tacoma, respectively) dismissed 220 misdemeanor marijuana cases in light of the vote to abolish penalties for adults 21 or older who possess up to an ounce. "There is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told The Seattle Times. "The people...spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense." (Satterberg's office handles cases that originate in unincorporated parts of the county; the Times notes that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who supported legalization, "has refused to prosecute misdemeanor possession cases since he took office" in 2010.) Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist agreed with Satterberg, saying, "The people have spoken through this initiative, and as a practical matter, I don’t think you could sell a simple marijuana case to a jury after this initiative passed."

Jack Driscoll, Spokane County's chief criminal deputy prosecutor, seems to take a different view, arguing that I-502 protects pot smokers only if they get their marijuana from state-licensed stores. "You can't under this initiative have an ounce of marijuana that doesn't come from a state-[licensed] provider," he said. "You still can't have black-market marijuana." But the initiative makes no such distinction, saying, "The possession, by a person twenty-one years of age or older, of useable marijuana or marijuana-infused products in amounts that do not exceed those set forth in section 15(3) of this act [i.e., one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused food, or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid] is not a violation of this section, this chapter, or any other provision of Washington state law."

The Times notes that Washington prosecutors have brought more than 13,000 misdemeanor marijuana possession cases annually in recent years. Police in Colorado have been charging more than 10,000 pot smokers a year with possessing small amounts of marijuana, a "petty offense" that will soon be no offense at all under state law (within two months of the election, depending on when the final canvass is completed and the vote is certified). Colorado, unlike Washington, will also allow pot smokers to grow their own marijuana (up to six plants) and share it with their friends (up to an ounce, "without remuneration"). And yes, the Drug Enforcement Administration theoretically could step in to bust pot smokers and small-time growers, but it does not have the resources to take on such penny-ante cases, which have always been handled by state and local police, who are responsible for about 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

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  • R C Dean||

    Must . . . quell . . . feelings of . . . . optimism.

    I've already seen this movie. The dog dies at the end.

  • Big 'Orra||

    Damn you! You said what I was gonna say ... only better.

  • ||

    The only bad outcome I can see from this is Obama's DOJ going after the weed smokers the Seattle police refuse to bust, and Washington voters still going for Biden or Hillary in 2016.

  • ||

    a completely baseless worry.

    and why seattle? we are talking WA, not seattle

  • ||

    cause Seattle has the largest population and is a lock to vote for the candidate with D next to their name.

  • Hyperion||

    This. It's sort of like Balmer here in MD. The votes from the sane portions of the state don't count since inner city Baltimore is 3x the population of the rest of the state combined.

  • Hyperion||

    Hitlary and Biteme running the country a completely baseless worry?! Ye gads, talking about the inmates running the asylum!

    Oh, you were talking about MJ...

  • ||

    Pot arrests were already supposed to be the lowest priority for the police in Seattle, but this is still good news.

  • ||

    correct. the city had that resolution that essentially said "throw it in the gutter and resume your normal patrol work".

    progressive may mean stupid on many fronts, but it worked well for seattle vis a vis MJ.

    and remember, WA is more than just seattle (thank god for that)

  • Hyperion||

    progressive may mean stupid on many fronts

    I seriously doubt progressives being the reason for MJ legalization. That doesn't make any sense at all. Progressives are the original prohibitionists.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The dog dies at the end.

    She never cried when Old Yeller died
    She wasn't washed in the blood of the lamb
    She never stood up for the Star Spangled Banner
    And she wasn't a John Wayne fan
    Her baby blue eyes had the warning signs
    That woman was bad to the bone
    She never cried when Old Yeller died
    So do you think I'll cry when she's gone

  • Cliché Bandit||

    I almost cried at reading this...no shit. FINALLY! the ACTUAL reduction of harm by stopping the drug war. I will wait until tomorrow to be disappointed.

  • Hyperion||

    When was the drug war stopped? I must have missed that.

  • zandooo||

    Sometimes you jsut have to wonder who comes up with that nonsense.

    www.Anon-Webz.tk

  • ||

    awesome ... Legalized pot in WA and WA continues to do the RIGHT thing. they didn't have to do this, but like many discretionary choices when it comes to MJ, in WA, they lean towards harm reduction and very light sentences , if they even go for prosecution

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    SOFT. ON. CRIME.

  • Paul.||

    You know what I'm soft on? Patraeus' girlfriend.

  • Hyperion||

    See, they are losing this already. The fedtards that is. And they have other things to keep them busy right now, like the CIA scandal stuff and a few states wanting to secede. A joke I am sure to most, but the reality is that if TX wanted to secede and it has enough support, there would be nothing the feds could do to stop it.

  • DeadLenny||

    One of the reasons Prop. 19 received zero support from growers in California was that the way the law was written, it would have run "mom & pop" growers out of business. Since there is no aspect of life our state government won't micromanage, trying to grow and sell legally would have been such a paperwork nightmare that only corporate business entities which hire lawyers by weight (three ton minimum, not counting their Italian loafers) could struggle through the bureaucracy. Hopefully Washington doesn't inflict such misery on their growers.

    ... But given how liquor sales work in Washington State, I may be exhibiting my usual Pollyanna-ish optimism.

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