King County drops pot misdemeanors; Deputies ordered to stop some possession arrests with I-502 passage

The legalization of recreational marijuana use for Washington residents 21 years and older officially kicks in Dec. 6, but King County prosecutors and police are already changing their policies.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced on Nov. 9 that his office dropped all 175 outstanding misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in their system. Cases were only dropped for those 21 years and older.

“Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month,” Satterberg said in a press release.

Shortly thereafter, the King County Sheriff’s Office announced their deputies “will not be directed to arrest or charge individuals caught with one ounce or less of marijuana following the passage of I-502,” effective immediately but only for unincorporated areas of King County like White Center.

“Now that the initiative has passed, and now that the Prosecutor’s Office won’t be charging the individuals, we will also not focus on behavior that will be legal under Washington State law after Dec. 6,” King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said in a statement.

KCSO made it clear that this directive only applies to unincorporated areas, further explaining, “There are 12 municipalities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for police services (including Burien). It remains the policy decision of the municipal attorneys and policy makers of those cities to determine how they will proceed between now and Dec. 6th. This decision only affects the deputies working in unincorporated King County.”

The Seattle Police Department has also explained their position on the passage of I-502, found here.

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