Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Author: Elaine Porterfield, Seattle P-I Reporter
Published: Thursday, September 18, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: [email protected]
Seattle voters had spoken, and their message seemed simple enough: Leave pot smokers alone. But what does it all mean? With Initiative 75 certain to pass (by yesterday, it had 59 percent of the vote counted so far) is it now legal to smoke pot in Seattle?
Can you still be prosecuted? And what about marijuana for medical purposes? To help make sense of it all, we took these questions -- and more -- to the Seattle Police Department and Tom Carr, the city attorney.
Question: When does the initiative go into effect?
Answer: It will kick in almost immediately after election results are certified Sept. 26.
Q: Will it then be legal to possess or use pot in Seattle?
A: Carr and the Seattle police say "no." State and federal drug laws make it clear that possession and use of marijuana is against the law. And it's up to local police and prosecutors to enforce drug laws.
"If someone is arrested and marijuana is in their pocket, they will be charged," Carr says. "We've not legalized marijuana in Seattle and we can't."
"If you're going to get arrested for civil disobedience, try not to have marijuana in your pocket."
Adds Duane Fish, a police spokesman: "We don't want people to think it's been decriminalized. It is still a crime."
Q: So what the does the initiative actually do?
A: It requires that police and prosecutors treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as their lowest priority.
And the message, Fish says, is more symbolic than substantive.
As it stands now, Seattle police already place a pretty low emphasis on possession of small amounts of marijuana, and they'll continue down that path, he says.
Adds Carr: "There won't be much difference than what we're doing today. We don't arrest and prosecute a lot of people for marijuana. Honestly, we're not going to increase our arrest rate."
Q: What about people who sell marijuana or push their product on children? Does this mean police will look the other way?
A: No. The measure only applies to small amounts of marijuana intended for personal use -- by adults.
Q: What's a small amount of pot?
A: Forty grams, enough to roll 50 or 60 cigarettes.
Q: Say I'm arrested and charged with possessing a small amount of pot. What kind of penalty am I looking at?
A: The maximum penalty, says Carr, is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. First-time offenders likely face at least one day in jail and a $250 fine. Bear in mind, Carr says, that criminal sentences are determined by criminal history.
Q: Will the police come looking for me if I smoke some pot?
A: In most cases, no. Arresting people for using marijuana is already a low priority for police.
Since 1998, the number of misdemeanor marijuana cases prosecuted by the City Attorney's Office has steadily declined. And of all the misdemeanor cases handled by the city attorney, only a small number are for marijuana possession.
"We don't go out and do buy-busts and raids, so that won't change," Carr says. "We're not going out to create great havoc in (users') homes."
Adds Fish: "We don't proactively seek out misdemeanor marijuana possession cases."
Q: The initiative mentioned something about a panel. What's that about?
A: Under the measure approved by voters, the City Council president must appoint an 11-member panel to look at the initiative's impact.
The Police Department and the city attorney will be required to report marijuana arrests and prosecutions to the panel semi-annually.
These reports would also include felony cases in Seattle handled by the King County prosecutor.
Q: What will the panel do with that information?
A: After two years, the City Council can decide to modify or repeal the measure, or simply let it stand.
Q: I'm confused. Can't you already possess marijuana for medical use?
A: Yes. Washington residents diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating condition may use a limited quantity of medicinal marijuana.
A doctor, after consulting with a patient, can then provide medical documentation for that person, who may then possess a 60-day supply of marijuana.
Note: Here's what pot initiative really changes -- not much.
Related Articles & Web Site:
Sensible Seattle Coalition
Czar Wars: White House Lectures Seattle on Pot
Seattle Voters Favor Measure on Marijuana
Seattle Votes To Make Marijuana Low Priority
Seattle Voters Favor Measure on Marijuana