Prosecutors in the two most populous counties of Washington state plan to dismiss scores of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases after after the passing of a landmark voter initiative to legalize pot for adult recreational use.
Washington and Colorado recently became the first U.S. states that removed criminal sanctions for personal possession of an ounce (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana with voters approving ballot measures for legalizing recreational use of the drug, setting up a possible showdown with the federal government.
The legalization measure of the Washington measure passed by more than 55 percent of voters supporting it and less than 45 percent opposed, and will take effect next month. However, prosecutors in King and Pierce counties of Washington that contain the cities of Seattle and Tacoma moved in a swift manner to announce that they were dropping 225 pending possession cases currently in the pipeline. All the cases slated for dismissal constitute the relative few in which the possession of marijuana alone is charged.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, “I don’t believe any jury is going to convict on a simple marijuana case after this initiative has passed.” Lindquist said conviction for possession of an ounce or less carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail. “The people have spoken loudly in Initiative 502, and there seems to be no point in continuing to prosecute cases for conduct that’s going to be legal in a couple of weeks,” King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said.
Washington state and Colorado were put by legalization efforts at odds with federal law that classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic and the U.S. Justice Department has yet to say what if any actions it will take in response to the votes.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington when asked to comment on the charge dismissals said the Justice Department was reviewing the newly passed ballot initiatives and “has no additional comment at this time.”
The new Washington and Colorado laws, in addition to legalizing personal possession of marijuana, will permit cannabis to be legally sold and taxed at a state-licensed stores in a system modeled on what many states have in place for sales of alcohol.
The two states already have laws on the books legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, along with 15 other states and the District of Columbia.