In this week's installment of "The Horse's Mouth," (which, yes, was supposed to publish Monday), Seattle Weekly chats with Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist about weed.
Specifically, Lindquist -- who was well known for his literary efforts before taking up prosecuting -- explained the decision he shared with prosecutors across the state to drop misdemeanor marijuana possession cases in the wake of I-502's approval. He also explained how he expects marijuana policy to evolve over time, throwing in a Pink Floyd reference for good measure.
Seattle Weekly: Can you explain the thought process that went into dropping pending misdemeanor marijuana possession charges in Pierce County? Was it a no-brainer, or was there some deliberation? Roughly how many cases does the decision affect?
Mark Lindquist: The people spoke through the initiative. Dismissing the cases was the right thing to do in my opinion because 1) it doesn't make sense to continue prosecuting conduct that will be legal in a month, and 2) as a practical matter, I don't think we could sell simple marijuana possession cases to jurors after this initiative passed. We are dismissing about 50 cases. In the Prosecutor's Office, we make decisions for the community every day. Some are difficult, some are easy. This was relatively easy.
What impact do you expect I-502 to have on the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office? How much time has your office spent in the past on misdemeanor marijuana charges?
We prosecute over 10,000 misdemeanors a year and about 100 of those are simple marijuana possession cases. In other words, marijuana cases only account for about one percent of our misdemeanor caseload. This will not have any noticeable impact on our office. Life will be easier for the 50 or so people who are having their cases dropped.
You've worked with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and others in years past lobbying for clarity to the state's medical marijuana laws. Will you continue to do this moving forward, seeing as I-502 doesn't really impact medical marijuana laws?
Yes. I-502 and medical marijuana are separate, albeit related, issues. Clarity is still needed on medical marijuana so patients, providers, and law enforcement all understand the rules.
In your opinion, are there things within I-502 that could use clarification at the legislative level?
I-502 was artfully drafted to win an election. I expect over time there will be clarification to adapt the law to practice. As an initiative, however, it takes a two-thirds vote in the legislature to amend it in the first two years. Until then, the Liquor Control Board is the key player. This agency has been tasked with setting up a system for growing, refining, and distributing marijuana. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is legal as of December 6, but currently there is no legal means to obtain marijuana. There won't be any revenue for the state until the Liquor Control Board has figured out how to grow, process, and market marijuana, and do it all in a way that doesn't invite the federal government to kick in their doors.
EXTRA CREDIT! Any predictions as to how the feds will ultimately react to I-502? What do you expect to happen?
You would need a Ouija Board to predict exactly how the federal government is going to initially react to I-502. I can, however, tell you what I think the future looks like. Eventually our laws pertaining to marijuana will resemble our laws pertaining to its intoxicant cousin alcohol. To steal from 'Casablanca" via Pink Floyd, "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon...."