Misdemeanor court filings for pot possession plunged in 2013

EVERETT — What a difference a year makes.

Misdemeanor court filings for marijuana possession dropped dramatically statewide in 2013 after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 legalizing possession of up to one ounce of pot for people 21 and older.

The number of cases plummeted from 5,531 to 120. There were nearly 8,000 in 2009.

Closer to home, there were just 10 misdemeanor marijuana possession filings in Snohomish County in 2013, down from 306 the year before.

The numbers come from the ACLU of Washington, which filed a public records request with the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts and analyzed the data.

“Our major goal in supporting (I-502) was to seriously reduce the arrests for adults who simply possess marijuana for their own use,” said Doug Honig, an ACLU spokesman. “And clearly the data show that is happening.”

The data also show that the number of court filings for other drug offenses, including felony marijuana charges such as growing, selling, and possession of large quantities of pot, have stayed relatively constant.

Initiative 502 legalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults.

The new law allows law enforcement officers to focus more energy on violent and serious crimes, Honig said.

Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said it has had a negligible impact on his office.

“With 502, I wasn’t waiting it out with bated breath,” Roe said. “We decided long ago that (prosecuting marijuana misdemeanors) wasn’t going to be one of our priorities. We had to decide what we were not going to focus on any more.”

The priorities in his office are prosecuting sex offenders, violent crime, drunken drivers and domestic violence, he said. Prosecutors do pursue a few marijuana cases when they involve large amounts.

Cmdr. Pat Slack, who leads the Snohomish County Drug and Gang Task Force, said the new law has had an effect on the work of his team of investigators.

It has made it harder “to roll up on a case,” he said. The term refers to the ability of detectives to gain information from people with small amounts of drugs to try to work their way up to large dealers toward the top of the pyramid.

Slack said he feels bad when people call and say they are troubled by a neighbor’s marijuana smoke.

“I have to tell them there is nothing I can do,” he said.

For now, the task force commander is waiting and watching as the state sorts out who gets licenses to sell marijuana and irons out rules overseeing its distribution.

Meanwhile, the task force remains plenty busy.

“We serve the public,” Slack said. “We don’t make the laws. All we do is enforce them. I’m concentrating my efforts more in the heroin area and more in cocaine area… Right now, you have to look at the manpower and taxpayer money and the taxpayers don’t want us to do” small marijuana cases.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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