Federal Way police prepare for state's new marijuana law

This courtesy photo shows a bud of high-grade marijuana. - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
This courtesy photo shows a bud of high-grade marijuana.
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

Even though Washington state says marijuana is now mostly OK, the federal government still sees the drug as illegal.

With the implementation of Washington's new marijuana law on Dec. 6, city attorney Patricia Richardson and Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson gave a quick report on the impacts of the new law during the Federal Way City Council's meeting on Tuesday.

Wilson said it's going to be a process for Federal Way police to learn how to correctly handle marijuana-related incidents.

"The police department stands ready to follow the law. I will say that over the last couple of weeks, looking at the law, and where we are, there's a tremendous amount of ambiguity, and misunderstanding within the public, about what this law means," he said. "I've had individuals say 'We can't wait to come in front of City Hall and light up.' That will probably be a problem."

Richardson reiterated the important parts of the new law.

"Initiative 502 becomes effective on Thursday, December 6. What this means is that under state law, the recreational use of marijuana is legal if individuals are 21 or older," Richardson said. "The allowable amounts of marijuana are one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused product in a solid form, or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form."

For those under 21, possession of marijuana will still be a crime, Richardson said, unless proof can be provided that it's for medical use.

Along with that, Richardson noted that medical marijuana users can exceed the allowable amounts for possession under I-502. Marijuana users can still grow plants for medical use and participate in "collective" gardens.

Richardson also said that the new law has an equivalency of an "open container" law, meaning marijuana products cannot be consumed or opened in public.

Marijuana in Federal Way

In 2011, Federal Way tackled the problem of marijuana dispensaries that had opened up in city limits, ultimately deciding on a moratorium on the issue.

The moratorium has expired, and it appears as though the city will still not allow such businesses, given Richardson's explanation for how such businesses are affected by local, state and federal law.

"Under state law, businesses will be licensed by the Liquor Control Board. The Liquor Control Board has until December 1, 2013, to draft licenses and regulations," Richardson said. "The city is not required by state law to issue marijuana business licenses. The Federal Way Revised Code provides (that) licenses can be denied if activity violates any federal law. A business owner/agent can be charged with a misdemeanor for conducting business without a city license."

"It's illegal under federal law to possess, produce, or manufacture marijuana or marijuana products. There are no exceptions under federal law," she added.

Wilson reiterated that as it stands now, there really is no "legal" place to acquire marijuana, but that, for all intents and purposes, it's legal to possess the drug up to the allotted amounts. Marijuana dealers will still be operating illegally, he noted.

Adults who possess marijuana with the intent to distribute or sell are going to fall under the felony statute for King County, he said.

"So if it's packaging and selling marijuana, that will be a felony investigation and forwarded to the King County Prosecutor's Office," Wilson said.

The chief also touched on the "in public view" portion of I-502, saying that for now, he and his officers will treat it like the "open container" law for alcohol.

"We are taking the position that will be something like the alcohol standard, or the open container. If you're in the public, you can't be lighting up and doing that in the general view of the public," he said.

Wilson did note that police officers will no longer cite people for possessing paraphernalia, as long as the paraphernalia appears to be solely for the use of marijuana.

Finally, Wilson said that perhaps the biggest challenge for Federal Way police will be how to handle situations in apartment complexes and similar types of residential areas.

"It will be challenging with multi-family apartment complexes, where odor, or smoke emitting from one apartment to another, or in a parking lot, or another kind of residential area…that the expectation of citizens (should) be addressed in some form or another by police," he said. "This law changes our ability to deal with those types of issues. And likely, we'll be referring them to homeowners associations, or to their apartment complexes, for disagreements or other means by which to address it. As a police department, we will not have the ability to address those types of complaints. But we will help citizens find avenues to address their concerns."

"We will continue to work, to make adjustments, to communicate with citizens, that this transition, and very significant change in the law, and change in public policy, is enacted in the most consistent and appropriate manner," Wilson concluded.


Late on Wednesday, the United States Attorney's Office issued an official statement regarding the enactment of the law:

"The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.

"Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 6 in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations and courthouses."


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