Blue Byline

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

Legalized marijuana is closer, but not there yet

Post by Brian O'Neill on Nov. 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm with 12 Comments »
November 12, 2011 11:47 am
Smoking a marijuana joint/ AP

To all the jokers, smokers and midnight tokers out there, it’s safe to come outside: Initiative 1 has passed.

With 64.7% of the votes, one might even say it smoked the competition (that pun might actually be more criminal than marijuana now).

In jubilant response, a recent Trib article suggested advocates new attitude could best be summarized as ”Ladies and gentlemen, start your bongs.”

Sherry Bockwinkel, one of the measure’s co-petitioner’s, was thus quoted, “Lowest enforcement means lowest enforcement. That means no arrests for marijuana possession under 40 grams, period.”

Not so fast.

True, this vote is a clear victory for legalized marijuana advocates, and a concrete stepping stone towards eventual legalization in our state. The federal government, well, let’s just say it remains unimpressed with the movement thus far.

But this vote still leaves the label of criminal activity clearly attached to pot. While the measure’s strong passage does allow (encourage would be a better word) police officers to forego arrests for marijuana, absent a prescription it still remains a crime.

Before you rush to the comment section to grammatically kill the messenger, consider that police officials calmly report that TPD is already walking the I-1 walk. As proof they point to the almost non-existent marijuana prosecutions in the last year or more.

The message here is that marijuana users (script holders or not) should expect that the level of enforcement prior to I-1’s passage will likely resemble that in most future scenarios.

Consider two such possible scenarios.

1) Two subjects are stopped by police while walking through the park after hours. An officer smells a strong odor of burning green vegetable matter (court lingo) coming from one of the subjects, and asks about it. The offender is compliant and brings forth the joint he was smoking. The officer recognizes that public safety is not an issue here, and he directs the subject to discard the joint and go home.

2) A police officer stops a car for erratic driving. When she approaches the driver’s window it rolls down, emitting a huge cloud of pungent smoke that blows into her face from the driver’s seat. Aside from any potential DUI charges, the officer makes a marijuana arrest in the good of public safety.

While these outcomes are conjecture, the many scenarios and situations wherein officers make contact with subjects recreationally using marijuana are often not as straightforward. Until the legislature or the electorate abandon statutes prohibiting marijuana, the public must know that it is still illegal.

At least for now. The future may render this entire argument moot. With I-1 now in the books, the day when marijuana may be legal just got a lot closer.


Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. AdvocateReason says:

    Prohibition is a waste of police resources in my opinion. Growing, possessing, and using marijuana is a civil liberty in a free society. People should not have to justify their civil liberties to the government. Regardless of how you feel about local law enforcement cracking down on marijuana. I hope we can all agree that it should be a state level decision and not a federal prohibition. Here’s how we can end the federal prohibition and restore power to the states. The proposed legislation is called H.R. 2306 and everyone should support the federal government getting out of state business.

    Tell your representatives ->

    “[Prohibition] attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.” – Abraham Lincoln

  2. alindasue says:

    Alcohol prohibition was repealed on a local and state level before it was repealed on a national level. No doubt the same will happen with marijuana…

  3. notSpicoli says:

    There is no reason to suspect that Tacoma police will act any differently than Seattle where people are still arrested for simple marijuana possession, fingerprinted, and booked. The City Prosecutor just refuses to file charges. Being arrested is a big deal, even if the charges are dismissed.

    Scene 1: never pull out your marijuana and show it to a police officer
    Scene 2: impaired driving caused by any substance–alcohol to prescription drugs is never acceptable

    “Until the legislature or the electorate abandon statutes prohibiting marijuana, the public must know that it is still illegal.”

    We are poised to present to the legislature an initiative that regulates and taxes recreational marijuana sales in the state of Washington. I-502, sponsored by New Approach Washington, has collected over 180,000 signatures and has nearly a million dollars pledged for the campaign to end marijuana prohibition.

    I-502 is not a pro-marijuana bill. It is not about “starting your bongs.” It recognizes that for years bongs have been started daily by millions of citizens and that marijuana prohibition has failed. Sadly and even tragically, the policy of marijuana prohibition is far worse–and presents a greater threat to public safety–than marijuana itself.

    The 10 sponsors of I-502 include a current court officer (Seattle Prosecutor Peter Holmes), a law professor and former federal prosecutor (John McKay), an ACLU lawyer specializing in drug policy, and the past 2 presidents of the Washington Bar Association. They, along with the other 5 sponsors, provide compelling reasons from their professional vantage for leading this movement to reform the marijuana laws in our state.

    I-502 details regulations that address public concerns about legalization and includes provisions for dealing with suspected impaired driving, limits advertising, restricts home growing (except for medical cannabis users*), sets up private but licensed growing and retail outlets, sets amount limits for possession, gives oversite to the state liquor board, contains age restrictions, etc.

    The first 2 comments make great suggestions that are not mutually exclusive. We need to work at the state and federal levels concurrently. Letting our legislators know that we are fed up with the policy of marijuana prohibition provides them with some political cover. But nothing will embolden our federal, state, and local representatives to act as much as the majority of its citizens passing statewide legalization initiatives.

    The New Approach Washington website is a great source of information in making your determination to support marijuana reform or to stick with the status quo.

    (*I-502 does not replace or supplant our state’s medical cannabis law.)

  4. wyecoyote says:

    Hey maybe you could turn the state liquor stores into state pot stores.

  5. alindasue says:


    yea, uh… no.

  6. I think ultimately that marijuana will be legalized. If we had a “breathalyzer” for it, I think it would be legal now. DUI is an important consideration when legalizing, and determining who is impaired and who is not is very tricky. Blood level testing is not as easy as for alcohol, and consent rules are a concern. The rules on that would have to be clear to get my “legalize it” vote.

    I do think this is a national issue, not a local one or state one. Unlike alcohol, the Federal government has jurisdiction over interstate commerce of pot and all activity regarding scheduled controlled substances. An amendement to the Constitution gave states all rights to determine the rules for buying and selling and distributing alcohol and took it out of the Interstate Commerce Clause, but no such amendment gives states the right to pass legalization laws. There are too many questions about how it will be regulated at the borders, since much of it is imported into the US from Mexico and Canada.

    Deal with the federal issues first, and I will support legalization. I will not support it just to make a show of Washington State’s defiance of national laws.

  7. wadsbrau says:

    @tuddo: “I think ultimately that marijuana will be legalized. If we had a “breathalyzer” for it, I think it would be legal now.

    Just make the driver eat a large bag of Funyons. If he or she finishes it in just a couple minutes take em in.

  8. BlaineCGarver says:

    Good Article. I favor making it legal, but I sure don’t want to see people using in public or in parks, etc, anymore than I like seeing idiot drunks in public. Have some class, dopers.

  9. Earth_watch says:

    The intent of this Initiative is not for uncontrolled smoking with wild abandon. As “notSpicoli” points out, this Initiative also never suggested that driving while impaired is ever acceptable.

    An alleged “offender” may not necessarily have to produce the contents of their pockets just because they’re asked to; however, the police officer in Scenario One had every right to arrest both people because there were breaking two other laws: 1) trespassing in a park after-hours 2) smoking in the park (which was passed by our City Council, making smoking in parks illegal). Regardless of the cannabis in play, the officer would likely do his duty and enforce the other laws (I say “he” because it’s a male officer in Brian’s scenario). Because of these other infractions, the discovery and inclusion of an illegal substance could then become an additional charge, I imagine.

    So, be careful not to read this article and think you can now smoke in parks after-hours with no fear of consequence. The intent of Initiative 1 is to protect those using cannabis responsibly.

  10. moms4marijuana says:

    I have to say, I’ve become a fan of your column and not only because of your coverage of the marijuana legalization effort.

    I’m a person who thinks police officers should have college degrees and your thoughtful ideas on police matters in general is reassuring. The challenges police officers have to deal with on a daily basis are not always black and white, no pun intended, and your column reflects that.

    That said, I think you mean green vegetable matter, not manner?

  11. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your comments, moms4marijuana. It is reassuring to have someone reiterate the main purpose of this column. Thanks for the heads up on the typo, as well.

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