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Marijuana Initiative No Way To Change Law


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Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: Tom Carr, Seattle City Attorney
Published: Thursday, January 15, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: [email protected]

Initiative 75 is a half measure that undermines our democratic system. In a democracy, all power comes from the people. If, as a society, we believe that marijuana use should be legalized, we should work to make that the law. That's the way democracy works.

Being unable to do this, Kathleen Taylor of the American Civil Liberties Union (Seattle approaches sensible drug policy, Jan. 6) advocates and applauds telling the police and prosecutor to look away in certain cases. This undermines the rule of law and our democratic system. Change is possible. We can work to make change happen but I-75 is not the way.

Taylor wrote that law enforcement resources will be focused on serious crime, that it makes no sense to waste public resources penalizing marijuana users. But I-75 will not save any money for public-safety agencies. Marijuana investigation and prosecution already was a low priority. Basically the city arrests or prosecutes marijuana possession cases when they fall into our lap and we have no other choice. Recent cases include a person arrested for bringing marijuana into the King County jail and another arrested for hawking marijuana brownies in front of police officers. 

While Taylor's arrest statistic is accurate, other numbers provide for more accurate context. Seattle has a population of more than 500,000 people. Last year, the Seattle Police Department arrested fewer than 500 people for marijuana crimes and we prosecuted fewer than 100. There are no resources to save and divert elsewhere.

Initiative 75 actually will result in more expenditures because now each and every arrest and prosecution will need to be analyzed by a newly created oversight panel. The fact is, most people prosecuted for marijuana possession or use have that charge tacked on to another crime for which they've been arrested. When marijuana is discovered on a suspect, the police, under the law, must add the charge to their report; I-75 will not change this. 

Initiative 75's implicit message is that it is acceptable to ignore a law. This is irresponsible and dangerous. Overriding state and federal laws make the possession and use of marijuana a crime, and SPD and this office will continue to make arrests and prosecute accordingly. Initiative 75 does not and cannot legalize personal use of marijuana.

And, contrary to Taylor's opinion, I-75 will do nothing to protect medical marijuana patients already protected under Initiative 692. 

While Taylor feels that the focus of law enforcement must be public safety, not enforcement of morality codes, marijuana laws are codified by statute, not morality. And the greatest social harm resulting from the illegal behavior of the student-loan recipient or food-stamp applicant described by Taylor is the message we send to people that they won't suffer any consequences by disregarding a law they don't believe in. 

This is why I am personally participating in the I-75 oversight panel: to provide front-line prosecutorial perspective and help keep the work of the panel grounded in the realities of conflicting state and federal drug laws. 

There is no pride in half measures like I-75. The democratic system works. Let's use it.

Tom Carr was elected city attorney in 2001.

Related Articles & Web Site:


Seattle Approaches Sensible Drug Policy

Seattle City Council Names Pot Panel

Ruling Bolsters Medical Marijuana Law


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