Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Hempfest arrests not surprising–pot is still illegal

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 25, 2011 at 11:32 pm with 27 Comments »
August 20, 2012 8:58 am

In all the smoky confusion coming out of Olympia’s chronic attempt legislate medical marijuana, one basic fact seemed to escape the attention of many attending this year’s Hempfest at Wright Park.

It’s still illegal to smoke marijuana.

According to the Trib article describing police arrests at Tacoma’s Hempfest several people were cited for marijuana possession as well as possession of drug paraphernalia, including pot pipes. Not surprisingly, some of those given citations were also people deeply involved in (pardon the pun) grassroots effort to legalize pot. People with such current information on marijuana legalization efforts should not have ben surprised by police enforcement, yet one individual was quoted, “I was dumbfounded” after being cited for having drug pipes.

Many cities were expecting more progress – either towards legalization or definite language against – from Olympia legislators. The City of Tacoma and the police department deserved credit for allowing medical marijuana dispensaries a temporary reprieve while awaiting direction from the state.

The answer came this spring when legislators and the Governor , in a typically half-baked manner (again, pardon), provided a few minor changes. But the overriding question of pot’s legality has been reaffirmed. Marijuana is still illegal.

So its back to the drawing board for marijuana legalization advocates. To wit, possession of a marijuana pipe showing evidence of having been used for that purpose (black residue in the bowl) is a misdemeanor. Possession of a marijuana brownie is a misdemeanor. Smoking a joint, ditto.

So if you were motivated enough to break out a blunt at Hempfest, don’t blame the cop for writing you a criminal cite. Yell at your legislator instead.

Leave a comment Comments → 27
  1. Seriously?? I can’t believe that the police have nothing better to do…

  2. I understand that vendors selling never-before-used “drug pipes”. Which is legal, and why shops all over the state do so in plain view. Have you been to a smoke shop recently? Have a look.

    The vendors upset were not selling used pipes, but clean glass. Clean because it’s never been used. It’s legal, and why I am dumbfounded by the police action today as well. Hopefully the lawsuit clears things up for you.

  3. tigerweedz says:

    As a united states citiszen oppresion is always a surprise. How many people were out drinking & driving or commiting violent acts while you guys were hassling us for unused inofensive pieces of glass? The lawmakers definately do have their heads firmly implanted in the orifice of their choice but that does not mean you have to join them. There is such a thing as priorities, & we ALL get a decision on those. People showing up at an event named hempfest should not be shocked to see pipes. You defacated on your cities name not us.

  4. So, I guess those vendors were selling used pipes?

  5. tigerweedz says:

    Today was my 1st time stopping in Tacoma, now that I know that the city entraps people by taking $7500 for park rental fees from an organization named Tacoma Hemfest & then sends in the cops to ticket the vendors who show up do buisness bringing comerce in a bad economy, I’ll keep going & spend my money elswhere.

  6. Smurquhart says:

    This is America! We have the right to peacefully assemble and we have the right to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Most of the vendors were had signs posted that advertized Tobacco use only and they were asking for IDs. I believe that measures were extremely harsh due to the fact that there is growing acceptance and legalization is a soon to be reality and some people dont like that. Please stop trying to arrest sick people and their only safe access to medicine.

  7. I read the TNT article and did not read anything about dirty bowls or used items being ticketed. Perhaps Brian, you have inside information and should have been more direct in your article and stated any facts that you know about.

    I also know that police use a lot of personal discretion on when they ignore so-called law breaking. I see it everyday. I recently asked a Tacoma officer who had nothing else to do to cite a person who purposely threw a bag of trash into the street that broke apart and was blowing everywhere, and he refused. Too much paper work, he said. That litter was much worse for our city than a glass incense burner.

    The marijuana brownies , if they test out that way, were over the top and the vendors should have been cited. However, the law on paraphenalia is vague enough that it allows police to play a harassment game that is uncalled for.

    Police can cite a lot of items that have multiple uses, like incense burners and incense, and then the possessor has to go through the legal hoops and costs to remove the arrest or citation in court. That is harassment, pure and simple. I help pay police salaries, and I will never vote any tax increase for police if they think that this type of behavior is something I am paying for.

    I don’t use pot. However, I consider it a very minor problem in our society and would like to see it legalized for personal use.

  8. blakeshouse says:

    I am so glad I decided NOT to go to the sham that was the Tacoma Hempfest. After reading articles leading up to it I realized it was just going to be a set up for the Tacoma Police Dept all the way round. They found a way to bring in bunches of revenue without ANY outlay of fund. First they charge an outlandish fee for the use of the facility requiring a task force of already on duty cops, then instruct them to write as many citations for as many infractions as they possibly can. Can anyone say SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL? I am as conservative as they come on most issues but have always felt this is more BS than the issue deserves. Sign the legalize it petitions as soon as you can

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Though I was not at the scene I will do my best to address some of the commenters’ questions:

    Police do have discretion for some misdemeanor level offenses. However, as the captain on scene pointed out the permit clearly stated that certain activities and items were not allowed. Thus, smoking marijuana without a medical waiver is both illegal and a violation of the permit. Smoking with a waiver is still against the city code because smoking of any kind is not allowed in parks. The article also states that no vendors were arrested, so I would be surprised to learn that never-before-used glass pipes were the subject of an arrest.

    Large and controversial events such as Hempfest require a police presence, so please don’t stop reciting the phrase, “The police should be out doing real work instead of hassling with this.” Those cops would have been happier doing something else, but their presence was required.

    Again, direct your complaints to your legislators, not to cops enforcing laws on the books.

  10. Good job Tacoma police. Keep up the good work.

  11. eriphila says:

    Much better response this year than last. The neighborhood was less impacted.

  12. Clean pipes aren’t paraphernalia! There is established legal precedent for this!

  13. You wrote in a way that implies that vendors should not be dumbfounded for being cited for selling clean glass pipes. That is actually a perfectly valid response, as it’s not a crime.

    Have a look at the police reports- I heard of a handful of tickets for smoking and selling illegal baked goods. The majority of citations were for clean glass from vendors.

    And the officer’s explanation at 4:35 in this video is not defensible in court.

  14. Omega6234 says:

    I went to hempfest one year…. all i saw was bums and burnouts. I mean the lower level of society… it was really gross.

  15. nice, balanced article Brian! I’m not into pot, but do think the time has come to strongly consider legalization. Doesn’t sound like the cops arrested anybody, just wrote criminal citations and threatened arrest. This is how social change occurs. If they did cite for selling unused pipes marked for tobacco use only, then people need to sue the TPD; and that will help their cause next year.

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Regarding those clean pipes…

    I have absolutely no idea whether or not TPD made drug paraphernalia arrests on vendors or Hempfest attendees for possessing unused pot pipes. My experience with drug paraphernalia arrests suggests that clean pipes are not covered under the statutes, however…

    Some city codes are written differently than state law, so it may depend on the jurisdiction in which one is cited. Also, the inference in these statutes is that there must be intent to use the paraphernalia to ingest illegal substances, i.e. pot. Perhaps there was something going on at the time the officers cited certain individuals that showed an actual intent to use the new pipes to smoke some weed. If that were the case, then perhaps the arrest/citation would be justifiable.

    In the end, if you base your pot-smoking decisions on assumptions (i.e. clean pipes aren’t illegal) you might find yourself consulting an attorney for an expensive education.

  17. Example of twisted logic in your writing: “if you base your pot-smoking decisions on assumptions (i.e. clean pipes aren’t illegal)”::

    How is ‘clean pipes aren’t illegal’ a pot-smoking decision? They’re unrelated.

    I agree that if the pipes are bought and then used right away for illegal purposes then that would justify probably cause. But we don’t know.

    How about you actually do some investigative research – you’re the journalist, not me. Do that before you write your twisted logic blog on a major newspapers website. You’re just spouting half-truths and weak legalese to spread your prohibitionist beliefs. Ignore the facts that people are dying, jailed, lives ruined, and the wrong individuals getting rich instead of the tax base.


  18. Brian O'Neill says:


    I need to make a few things clear. First, I am a police officer not a journalist–thus, my opinions aren’t based on journalistic research but on my years of experience on the job. The second point relates to your comment regarding my so-called illogical and unrelated statement about clean pipes. I have found that many people base some fairly important decisions on what are common misperception, for example: prostitutes assuming undercover cops must identify themselves if directly confronted; drunk drivers refusing to take a breath test following a DUI arest because it’s a “good idea”; a pot-smoker assuming that an unused marijuana pipe is not illegal in any circumstance. I do not consider this twisted logic, but an attempt to underline the legal issues of the arrests during Hempfest. And let’s be honest, if you’re buying a pot pipe, you’re one step away from smoking. Unrelated? I don’t think so.

    Lastly, you might be surprised to learn how many police officers would like to do away with marijuana laws, which require so much of our efforts, our tax dollars and our time. I welcome you to continue reading this blog because I will revisit that topic again. Thanks for reading.

  19. Thank you for your civil response and for clearing up your background to me. I have always told police officers that they may have less work to do if cannabis were legalized, and why I support LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). While it’s very difficult to predict that they might have less to do, especially with to what extent it were legalized, with 40-50% of drug arrests dealing with marijuana nationally, that amount would shrink considerably.

    I’ll continue reading the blog and continue to work towards reforming cannabis laws.

  20. BlaineCGarver says:

    Good, balanced article, Brian. BTW, you can really tell the people that were toking when they tried to respond in this blog…LOL!! I really think it should be legalized. As long as booze and tobacco is legal, I don’t see why not.

  21. The paraphernalia issue is somewhat troublesome to read about. The conversations of the legality of the paraphernalia distracts from the root cause to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes for which I support.

  22. Brian,

    Thanks for your last response.

    By your argument, if I go purchase a handgun, someone should take it away from me because I COULD kill someone. We shouldn’t issue them to cops, then, either. Much like if I bought a pipe, I COULD burn Marijuana in it. You argument still falls victim to the lamest of fallacies, the slippery slope. When does it stop? When I can buy a can of coke because I could turn it into a pipe? Or an apple? I could turn your cop car into a bong in 15 minutes.

    Your response is still invalid, which works for me.

  23. macewindu says:

    Somehow this reminds me of the civil rights issues in the 60’s.
    Just because you can (technically) enforce the laws, that does not mean that you should!

  24. Thank you, MaceWindu!

    Prohibition DOESN’T WORK. It creates ‘Al Capone’, Mexican Drug Cartels that fuel their bottom line with pot, and an underground economy that doesn’t check IDs. We are trying to operate ABOVE ground. Pay our taxes. Feed our kids. Be good human and corporate citizens. Why can’t we legalize pot so I can grow a bush in my backyard? I won’t have to buy any pot from Mexican drug cartels!

  25. Brian O'Neill says:

    Two problems, mace and et2kah:

    1) When you have a law on the books you leave the enforcement decision to cops who are geared towards making arrests when presented with a violation of the law. To suggest they overlook “lower priority laws” would be an invitation to corruption. You want to avoid an arrest for marijuana possession? Change the law.

    2) A few weeks ago I was speaking with a woman who was legally growing 15 MJ plants for her medical needs. The reason I was speaking with her was that four gang members had just broken into her house, threatened her and her child with a gun, and then ripped off her stash. If you think legalization will be an easy process, then I suggest you put down the pipe for a minute.

    If marijuana becomes a legal product then it will still a safe production and distribution chain.

  26. Legalization is a complicated mess to unravel because of decades of misguided legislative, judicial, and law enforcement policies.

    Meanwhile the heartache continues…

  27. Brian —

    Yes, the safe distribution chain will be everyone growing a 20 LB bush in their back yard. The reason creeps break into houses is to steal pot to sell… If they could grow a years supply in the back yard, this is a non starter. It is the prohibition that creates the crime around cannabis.

    I’m not asking them to overlook laws. I’m asking them to regard 40 years of on-the-books case law in the state of Washington. They made stupid citations that will NEVER stand up in court, and that is if the city attorney even decides to go after them, which would be almost as ridiculous as the citations in the first place. I notice that neither the Green Room or Hippie House (both in Tacoma, both selling tobacco accessories) haven’t be raided by Tacoma SWAT since the event.

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