Washington counties drop marijuana misdemeanor possession cases

Saturday, November 10, 2012 - 6:10pm

The prosecutor's offices for two Washington counties -- including the one that contains Seattle -- announced Friday they will dismiss 175 misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, days after the state's voters legalized the drug.

The dropped cases all involve arrests of individuals age 21 and older for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

Washington state voters passed Initiative 502 on Tuesday, thus legalizing and regulating the production, possession, and distribution of cannabis for people ages 21 and older.

The initiative is set to take effect December 6, though King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg decided to act before then.

"There is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," Satterberg said in a news release.

The King County Sheriff's Office subsequently announced that, in light of the county prosecutor's decision, its deputies "will not be directed to arrest or charge individuals caught with one ounce or less of marijuana."

This decision affects efforts only in the unincorporated part of the county, with the sheriff's office noting that leaders in 12 municipalities in the county will decide how deputies act between now and December 6 in their locales.

Mark Lindquist, the prosecutor for Pierce County in Washington state, said his office will dismiss simple marijuana possession cases as well. But cases in which a person is charged with other crimes, in addition to marijuana possession, will still stand, Lindquist said.

The Washington referendum called for a 25% tax rate imposed on the product three times - when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer.

It is one of two marijuana-related ballot initiatives that passed this week. Amendment 64 in Colorado will amend the state constitution to legalize and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for persons ages 21 and older.

But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper warned after his state's vote that it's too soon to "break out the Cheetos," because his state and presumably Washington state must still navigate federal laws before citizens can legally buy and sell cannabis.

And germane to the Washington and Colorado initiatives, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement Wednesday morning saying its "enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged."

"In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance," the DEA said. "The Department of Justice is reviewing the ballot initiatives, and we have no additional comment at this time."
 

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