By Doug Petrowski
The City of Mountlake will drop all pending misdemeanor marijuana possession charges currently in the court system in light of Initiative 502 becoming law on Dec. 6, according to City Prosecutor Sandy Sullivan.
“We are going to dismiss all pending marijuana cases,” Sullivan told the Mountlake Terrace City Council Thursday evening.
Sullivan explained that once the newlaw allowing adults 21 and older to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana goes into effect, it will be difficult to find judges and juries to convict on charges of possession that are now in the courts. From a defense’s point of view, the argument could be made, “How can you possibly convict someone of a crime that is no longer a crime,” she said.
“I was in court this afternoon and the judge I was in front of wouldn’t even issue a bench warrant for somebody that was there with a marijuana charge,” Sullivan added.
“King County is dismissing all of their cases; Pierce County is dismissing all of their cases of misdemeanor possession charges,” Sullivan said. Although Snohomish County has not made such a public pronouncement, Sullivan believes “if a current case gets continued long enough it will ultimately be dismissed.”
Sullivan will not seek past marijuana possession convictions to be vacated, choosing instead to keep them on the books to deter those with past misdemeanor drug convictions from committing additional crimes or violating parole.
The new law resulting from the passage of Initiative 502 will make legal on Dec. 6 not only possession of one ounce of marijuana for personal use, but 16 ounces of “infused solids” (marijuana brownies, for example) and 72 ounces of “infused liquids,” explained Mountlake Terrace Assistant Police Chief Pete Caw.
The creation of new law concerning marijuana possession has left many wondering how it will all be carried out, including those in law enforcement. “The law, as it will appear on Dec. 6, is not going to be an event; it’s going to be a process,” said Caw. “There’s a lot of questions to answer. We’re going to have to experiment a lot to figure out what happens and where this is going. There’s some really large questions, and millions and millions of small ones.”
While the new state law allows adults to possess small amounts of marijuana, it does not negate other laws on the local, state and federal level. It will still be illegal to transport, grow, buy or sell marijuana; to possess the drug in quantities more than what the law specifies or to drive a vehicle under the influence of the drug, Caw noted. Adding to the confusion, federal law disallows all marijuana possession, but rarely prosecutes possession cases unless they are related to large quantities tied to drug trafficking.
Caw told the council that members of law enforcement are frequently asked about the specific logistics of marijuana possession after the new law goes into effect. “Yes, you can legally carry around an ounce of marijuana,” Caw explained. “However if you open the package in public view, that would be an infraction.” Law enforcement cannot arrest those violating infractions, but can ticket and fine those in violation, he said.
It will also still be illegal to smoke marijuana in public. “It’s a civil infraction, similar to an open alcohol container,” Caw said.
With so much confusion, it may take time for police to determine how they will handle enforcement of what may seem like contradictory laws. The City Prosecutor sees similar difficulties in the courts for the near future.
“I truly believe that over this next year, because there are so many questions, judges are going to err on the side of not prosecuting,” Sullivan said. “I think, unfortunately, for this next year things are very much going to be in flux. Hopefully by Dec. 1 of next year, things will settle down and have things in place. But I think it’s going to be a rocky road where very little gets prosecuted when it comes to marijuana, even the things that are technically still illegal.”