SPD on THC: Police release a guide to marijuana use in Seattle with passage of I-502
Written by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee with the Seattle Police Department on November 9, 2012
The people have spoken. Voters have passed Initiative 502 and beginning December 6th, adults over 21 years old can possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, like cookies, or 72 ounces of infused liquid, like oil) for personal use.
Marijuana has existed in a grey area in Seattle for some time now. Despite a longstanding national prohibition on marijuana, minor marijuana possession has been the lowest enforcement priority for the Seattle Police Department since Seattle voters passed Initiative 75 in 2003. Officers don’t like grey areas in the law. I-502 now gives them more clarity.
Marijuana legalization creates some challenges for the Seattle Police Department, but SPD is already working to respond to these issues head on, by doing things like reviewing SPD’s hiring practices for police officers to address now-legal marijuana usage by prospective officers, as well as current employees.
While I-502 has decriminalized marijuana possession in Washington, the new state law is in direct conflict with federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. All Seattle Police officers have taken an oath to uphold not only state law, but federal law as well. However, SPD officers will follow state law, and will no longer make arrests for marijuana possession as defined under I-502.
The Seattle Police Department and Mayor Mike McGinn have already begun working with state officials to navigate this conflict, and follow the direction of Washington voters to legalize marijuana.
In the meantime, the Seattle Police Department will continue to enforce unlicensed sale or production of marijuana, and regulations against driving under the influence of marijuana, which remain illegal.
Here’s a practical guide for what the Seattle Police Department believes I-502 means for you, beginning December 6th, based on the department’s current understanding of the initiative Please keep in mind that this is all subject to review and revision by the state attorney general, and King County Prosecutor’s office:
Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?
According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Please note that the initiative says it “is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana…in view of the general public,” so there’s that. Also, you probably shouldn’t bring pot with you to the federal courthouse.
Well, where can I legally buy pot, then?
The Washington State Liquor Control Board is working to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. The WSLCB has until December 1, 2013 to finalize those rules.
Can I grow marijuana in my home and sell it to my friends, family, and co-workers?
As long as you’re a licensed grower and seller, yes.
Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.
Will police officers be able to smoke marijuana?
As of right now, no. This is still a very complicated issue.
If I apply for a job at the Seattle Police Department, will past (or current) marijuana use be held against me?
The current standard for applicants is that they have not used marijuana in the previous three years. In light of I-502, the department is consulting with the city’s employment law division and the state attorney general to see if and how that standard may be revised.
What happens if I get pulled over and an officer thinks I’ve been smoking pot?
If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.
What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?
Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search and closed or locked container, and can only use a narcotics dog if they have a warrant. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.
SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?
Will SPD assist federal law enforcement in investigations of marijuana users or marijuana-related businesses, which are legal, at the state level, under I-502?
No. Officers and detectives will not participate in an investigation of anything that’s allowed by state law.
December 6th seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then?
Hold your breath. Your case will be processed under current state statute. However, there is already a city statute making marijuana enforcement the lowest law enforcement priority.
I’m under 21. What happens if I get caught smoking pot?
It’s a violation of state law. It’ll be referred to prosecutors, just like if you were a minor in possession of alcohol. But, again, marijuana enforcement is still the lowest law enforcement priority in Seattle. This is all still under review and we’re still awaiting advisement from the state attorney general.