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November 10, 2012

Prosecutions dropped: the first tangible legal impact of marijuana legalization in Washington

This local piece, headlined "Marijuana prosecutions dropped in anticipation of legalization," reports on what seems to be the first legal consequence of the marijuana legalization initiative passed in Washington state. Here are the details:

Prosecutors and police in Washington moved Friday to swiftly back away from enforcing marijuana prohibition, even though the drug remains illegal for another month.   On Friday, the elected prosecutors of King and Pierce counties, the state's two largest, announced they will dismiss more than 220 pending misdemeanor marijuana-possession cases, retroactively applying provisions of Initiative 502 that kick in Dec. 6.

In King County, Dan Satterberg said his staff will dismiss about 40 pending criminal charges, and will not file charges in another 135 pending cases.  Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said he will dismiss about four dozen cases in which simple marijuana possession was the only offense. "I think when the people voted to change the policy, they weren't focused on when the effective date of the new policy would be.  They spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense," Satterberg said.

The Seattle police and King County sheriff also announced Friday their departments would no longer arrest people for having an ounce or less of marijuana, the amount decriminalized by Initiative 502, which passed Tuesday....

Misdemeanor marijuana possession had not been a police priority in Seattle for years, but a study released in October found it was elsewhere: more than 241,000 people statewide were arrested for possession over the past 25 years, at an estimated cost of more than $305 million....

In interviews, Satterberg and Lindquist said their decisions do not amount to a free pass for marijuana, and the number of cases were so small that it won't save much money. But both said their decision reflected the voters' intent in passing I-502's decriminalization of marijuana for people 21 and over, and for an ounce or less....

The maximum penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession are 90 days in jail, with one day mandatory, and a $1,000 fine, although most cases are resolved for less.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said in an email that his staff had put marijuana cases "on hold" before the election, and will decide how to handle them after speaking with other prosecutors at an upcoming meeting. After budget cuts, Roe said his staff has focused on more serious cases. "It simply hasn't been a big part of our work," he said....

Prosecutors across the state will decide whether charging possession cases would be contrary to "the new known intent of the law," said Tom McBride, executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.  He doubted that prosecutors would agree to overturn existing marijuana possession convictions, and prosecutors could clearly enforce existing law up until Dec. 6. "It is an equitable decision, not necessarily a legal one," he said.

Other agencies are also sorting out I-502's implications. The UW and Western Washington University reaffirmed that marijuana use on campus would still be banned, even after Dec. 6, because of zero-tolerance strings attached to federal funding.

November 10, 2012 at 05:00 PM | Permalink


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I'm really interested to see how Washington and Colorado handles this. I know other states are watching as well and if they're successful they may be more open to it as its another thing to tax.

Posted by: Marc | Nov 11, 2012 8:11:49 PM

Hip hip hooray!

The ruthless, immoral, destructive drug war is on its way out.

Posted by: Eric Leslie | Nov 12, 2012 2:49:27 PM

Eric Leslie --

"The ruthless, immoral, destructive drug war is on its way out."

The phrase "drug war" covers a lot of ground. Do you favor legalization of all drugs?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 13, 2012 8:36:09 AM

Three markers indicating the start of a tipping point during 2011q4 - 2012q1:

"Lost Memory of Skin", Russell Banks' phenomenal novel on how the CJS treats sex offenders.

Adam Gopnick's article, "The Caging of America", in a Jan 2012 New Yorker, bringing home the extent of the penal system to a group of Americans for whom it had been essentially invisible.

Paperback edition of Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow", with subsequent media appearances on NPR, MSNBC (to my knowledge), and
speeches on the college circuit.

The CO & WA votes followed naturally.

More to say, but I've got a lot of work to do....

Posted by: Bill K | Nov 13, 2012 1:29:27 PM

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