Disposition of existing marijuana cases uncertain in Snohomish County in wake of I-502's passage | UPDATED

MARYSVILLE — As of Dec. 6, the possession and use of one ounce or less of marijuana becomes legal in the state of Washington, but how this will be enforced and prosecuted depends upon whom you ask, and in what part of the state.

Prosecutors for King, Pierce and Clark counties have all stated their intentions to drop their existing misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, but as of Nov. 30, prosecutors for Snohomish County were still exploring what the disposition might be on their own existing marijuana cases.

“[Snohomish County Prosecutor] Mark Roe and our other attorneys have been talking to law enforcement and each other,” said Hal Hupp, deputy prosecuting attorney for Snohomish County, who didn’t expect the matter to be resolved by Dec. 6. “Part of the problem is that the legal definition of marijuana up to Dec. 6, 2012, is different from the legal definition of marijuana from Dec. 6, 2012, forward.”

One luxury for the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office with these cases is that, as Hupp said, “Dec. 6 is the start date for the new marijuana laws, but it’s not the deadline for decisions on the old laws.”

Both Hupp and Shari Ireton, director of communications for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, acknowledged the complexities of the law in the wake of Washington state voters passing Initiative 502, although she cited the new laws themselves as establishing at least a few certainties.

“If the law says that possession of an ounce or less is legal, we’re not going to arrest you for it,” Ireton said. “If you’re in possession of more than that amount, or you’re under 21 years of age, or you’re distributing it, we will. If we get a call about 30-year-olds smoking up in the park, we’ll respond, because displaying or consuming marijuana in public is still illegal.”

Although the possession, use and sale of marijuana-related drug paraphernalia will no longer be a crime or civil infraction, Ireton acknowledged that until the state comes up with licensing guidelines there is no legal way for people to obtain marijuana itself in Washington, unless they’re medical marijuana recipients.

At the same time, Ireton and Hupp both noted that drivers’ THC levels from marijuana will continue to be grounds for DUI arrests.

Ireton conceded that “these are very confusing laws,” especially given the differing ways in which each county is choosing to respond to them, while Hupp pointed out that the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office is responding “as quickly as it can,” given that “this is a small part of what we do, which tends to focus more on violent and sexual assaults and murder. The costs involved in these changes are already significant.”

“And no, members of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office can’t start smoking marijuana, because we’re still bound by federal laws,” Ireton said, in an attempt to clear up one misconception she’s already encountered.

Marysville City Attorney Grant Weed explained that Marysville, like many cities in Washington, had not yet “sorted out all of the issues the 60-plus page I-502 presents,” but assured citizens that the city of Marysville intends to enforce the new law as written, including the DUI aspects of the new law.

“The city will also be monitoring the many state regulations that will be adopted by the Liquor Control Board over the next year, and taking appropriate steps to seek compliance,” Weed said. “We will also be watching to see what the U.S. Attorney’s Office may do at the federal level.”

Arlington City Attorney Steve Peiffle likewise described his own staff as “still looking at this issue,” albeit at a staff level rather than an attorney one at this point.

“Not unlike the pattern of the past few years, we’re waiting for the federal response,” Peiffle said. “We know that the possession of certain quantities above the age of 21 will no longer be prosecuted and the sale of it is still illegal, but to a large extent, we have no real clue beyond that. We’re operating without guidance and hoping someone at a higher level will enlighten us.”


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