When pot is and isn’t legal under new law

December 5, 2012

By Michele Mihalovich

Teenagers who are thinking how fun it’s going to be to smoke pot at a park in front of police due to the new marijuana laws might want to rethink that game plan.

Snoqualmie Police Chief Steve McCulley said there are two things wrong with that scenario.

One, Initiative 502, which passed in November and went into effect Dec. 6, allows that anyone 21 and older may be in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.

And McCulley said his officers are really going to be educating and enforcing those laws for people younger than 21.

But he also pointed out that smoking pot, or consuming marijuana-infused products, such as drinks or brownies, is illegal if done in a public place — no matter your age.

And that includes driving on public roadways, McCulley said.

You can’t drink a beer while driving, and you can’t puff a joint on Washington roadways.

McCulley said that if someone gets pulled over, for say a speeding infraction, and the unmistakable waft of marijuana hits an officer’s nose, the driver may be asked to show the marijuana.

“But it’s not like my officers are going to be issued scales to weigh it out,” he said.

The police also, for now at least, won’t be asking you where you purchased your under-an-ounce stash, McCulley said.

The interesting thing about this new law, he said, is that the regulatory authority — Washington State Liquor Control Board — has until Dec. 1, 2013, to come up with a game plan for regulating the sales of marijuana.

So, for right now, only licensed medical marijuana dispensaries have the legal authority to sell pot and pot products, and that can only be sold to medical marijuana cardholders, he said.

While there may be some gray areas with the new law, one thing hasn’t changed, McCulley said — and that is driving while impaired.

Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol remains illegal, and if an officer thinks that a driver is impaired, regardless of the intoxicant, there are policies and procedures to follow, he said.

If there are no telltale signs of alcohol, but an officer suspects a driver is impaired and field sobriety tests are failed, he or she can call in a drug recognition expert, most often a specially trained trooper with the Washington State Patrol.

“They can usually get to us within the hour, and then can narrow down specifically what drug the person’s on,” McCulley said.

Once that’s been determined, an officer will transport the person to a hospital for a blood test, he said.

And that’s how it’s been done for years, McCulley said.

He said he wants the public to know that his officers have been trained and now have a pretty good understanding of the new law.

“I’m not happy about the new law, but I expected the initiative to pass,” he said. “Society has changed. And I compare this to the end of Prohibition.”

But he does expect facing some challenges that aren’t really covered by the new law.

If an adult is in his or her own backyard enjoying a legal joint, but it’s bothering their next-door neighbors where their 3-year-old child is playing — how do you handle that?

“I think if an officer went and spoke with the person smoking the pot and explained that it was bothering the neighbors, I think that person would do the right thing and stop smoking,” he said. “But yes, those are the kind of challenges we’re going to be facing.”

He will, however, be recommending that the cities of Snoqualmie and North Bend not issue business licenses for marijuana-based businesses.

“It’s my recommendation that if it’s considered illegal under federal, state or local laws, then a business license shouldn’t be issued,” McCulley said, adding that it would be one less headache police have to deal with.


Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or editor@snovalleystar.com.


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