Washington state reaps enforcement benefits of legalization

May 20, 2015

When Initiative 502 passed, a gray area was written into the law.
Possession of one ounce of marijuana was decriminalized, even before there were legal avenues for obtaining marijuana.

The reasoning behind this was to provide those charged with marijuana crimes, as well as state coffers, immediate relief.

According to Cynthia Martinez, prosecuting attorney for the city of Yakima, the city saw many cases dropped.

“Prior to the initiative, we did prosecute marijuana,” Martinez said. “Our caseload did go down as a result of I-502.”

According to a KIMATV article, the city of Yakima threw out 14 marijuana cases but decided to continue prosecution with 56 others when the initiative passed in 2012. The reason Yakima continued to prosecute those 56 cases was because either the defendants were still underage, or they had committed other crimes.

Martinez said that many of the cases that involved people of-age needed the marijuana charges to get additional charges to stick, and that the defendants were often offered a plea deal on the marijuana charges if they agreed to plead guilty to the other charges they were accused of.

According to Martinez, there were 53 marijuana possession charges in 2012, which had dropped down to just 12 in 2014. There were 81 drug paraphernalia charges in 2013, which dropped to 56 in 2014.

The statistics for paraphernalia charges are not just for marijuana, but all drug paraphernalia charges.

Possession of marijuana paraphernalia is legal in Washington, so long as the person in possession is over the age of 21.

According to Mike Bastinelli, spokesperson for the Yakima Police Department, personal marijuana has seen relatively lax enforcement, even before I-502 passed.

“The recreational marijuana user was never really a priority before,” Bastinelli said.

Instead, the Yakima Police Department focused their efforts on targeting dealers and suppliers, according to Bastinelli.

DUIs are also an area of concern, but Yakima county does not distinguish marijuana DUIs from other substances, it is a blanket offense category.

According to Martinez and Bastinelli, Yakima has seen a slight increase in the number of DUIs since the passage of I-502.

However, according to data provided by Bastinelli, DUIs have dropped from 378 in 2012 to 129 in 2015 between Jan. 1 through May 18.

These numbers show an overall decrease, but DUI charges may spike during holiday seasons such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas which could account for the difference in narratives.

According to the ACLU website, misdemeanor marijuana charges dropped from 7964 in 2009 to 120 in 2013.

Misdemeanor charges are often possession of marijuana over one ounce, but still under 40 grams.

The ACLU provided a breakdown of legal costs associated with marijuana enforcement between the years of 2000 and 2010 by county in Washington.

During that time period, Yakima county spent an estimated $7.8 million on enforcement including arrests, jail time, defense and prosecution. Kittitas County spent an estimated $5.2 million on enforcement.

The savings for many counties in Washington should be significant.

“For people 21 and over, a lot of that activity is no longer illegal,” Mark Cooke, spokesperson for the ACLU of Washington, said.

It is unclear how legalization affected the budget, but the Observer will be releasing an investigative piece to be published on June 5 at cwuobserver.com.

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    David J. McClellandMay 21, 2015 at 6:52 am

    Eastern Washington bends over backwards to cater to Winos, er, I mean Wine Enthusiasts, because of the class of people whose drug of choice it is. There is no law imposing strict limits on how much wine you can possess, even though it is far more dangerous than cannabis.