After Dec. 6, adults over age 21 will be able to carry up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use, in accordance to the provisions of I-502.
This was information helpfully provided by the Seattle Police Department shortly after elections returns from Nov. 6 indicated the initiative was headed for passage, and Bonney Lake law enforcement intends to follow those guidelines.
According to Bonney Lake Police Chief Dana Powers, come Dec. 6, police officers will cite anyone 21 years and older who is found to carry over the quantity limit of one ounce, and anyone underaged.
Over in neighboring Enumclaw, "any pending court cases will be dismissed if the defendant is over 21 and had less than the quantity amount," said City Administrator Mike Thomas said. "This puts us in line with the law and with what other jurisdictions are doing."
However, according to Powers, that's not the case in Bonney Lake. "As far as I know that they will not be dismissed as it was illegal at the time of the original case," she wrote in an email to Patch.
Asked if she knew quantitively what the impact of the decriminalization process would be and whether it'd make a dent in the city's typical case load of marijuana-related violations, "this remains to be seen and we will not be able to see what the trend will be for at least a year if not two," she said.
Beyond Dec. 6, municipalities across the state are waiting for further information and direction. The state Liquor Control Board has said it would take up to a full year to fully implement the rules for marijuana sales and taxation.
A recent meeting Gov. Chris Gregoire had with Deputy Attorney General James Cole at the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the initiative that illustrated how unsettled the issues surrounding the initiative were. A statement from Gregoire's office dated Nov. 13 indicated: "The governor asked the Department of Justice to clarify their position as many questions remain. In turn, as the state begins the implementation process, we will convey to them any problems or concerns."
The DUI Provision
One of the more controversial aspects of I-502 that drew opposition from pro-legalization groups centered around the qualifications around when someone would be cited and arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. A standard of 5 ng/mL of active THC in the bloodstream was set to determine whether someone might be under the influence.
Sensible Washington, one pro-legalization group that opposed I-502, warns that the 'per se' qualification means law enforcement will base guilt on blood level of THC and not impairment and could potentially "ensnare" innocent people -- particularly medical marijuana patients. The rationale is that THC can linger in the blood stream hours after consumption when an individual no longer exhibits signs of impairment.
Countering that concern is New Approach Washington, responsible for the I-502 campaign, who in a fact sheet (see attached) points out there is already a 'per se' provision as it relates to alcohol offenses. "Having a breath/blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 is 'per se' (in and of itself) DUI, even if you are an experienced drinker and feel you can drive safely at 0.08 BAC."
The fact sheet also details the difference between active THC and the inactive carboxy-THC: levels of the former drop significantly a few hours after consumption; carboxy-THC, which has been used in the past to convict marijuana users, is not to be considered in determining THC concentration for purposes of the per se limit.
The Courier-Herald reports that until further guidance comes from the state level, there are no big changes to how Enumclaw and neighboring Bonney Lake arrest and prosecute cases. Enumclaw City Prosecutor Mike Reynolds told The Courier-Herald that in the past, the city never relied solely on the technical data gathered during a field sobriety test but also considered degree of impairment for an individual driver. In the same story, Powers corroborated that officers generally assess whether a person was driving erractically before they decide to pull someone over. Observing their behaviors and field sobriety tests could follow and deciding whether a blood draw is necessary is subsequent to this.
Ed Note: The statement above paraphrasing a Courier-Herald interview with Enumclaw City Prosecutor Mike Reynolds was changed from an earlier version to clarify that there is not so much a preference for assessing individual impairment over the per se legal limit but that historically the city has never relied only on blood alcohol data with regards to DUI charges.
The current lack of certainty prompted Sensible Washington to outline some cautionary tips for those who would follow the legal provisions of I-502. They include:
- Never drive with a cannabis-friendly bumper sticker
- Do a quick inspection of your vehicle, making sure there are no obvious problems, like broken taillights.
- Make sure that you do not smell like cannabis when you leave the home – use deodorant, perfume, etc., even if you haven’t smoked in hours. The slightest scent could give the officer reason to test your blood, and to assume you’ll be above the 5, or 0ng/ml limits.
- Be cautious when driving with any amount of cannabis on your person, even if it’s under an ounce. Possessing even a gram is enough probable cause for an officer to search you, and test your blood.
- Understand that even if you consumed cannabis days ago, you may not be safe, and should take these precautions. Active THC lingers in the body for days, and we have no home test for individuals to determine if they’re below 5ng/ml before they drive.
Follow news from the Washington State Liquor Control Board as implementation progresses, and view the full text of I-502 at www.liq.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502.