The elected prosecutors in Washington’s two most populous counties said Friday they would dismiss certain misdemeanor marijuana-possession cases as a result of state voters’ passage of Initiative 502, which legalizes pot possession of 1 ounce or less.
The dismissals in Pierce and King counties will affect defendants who are 21 or older and charged with possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana. There are about 175 such cases in King County and about a third as many in Pierce County.
“We are gathering together those cases, and that is our intention,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said of dismissing the prosecutions.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said dismissing the cases is the right thing to do.
“Although the effective date of I-502 is not until Dec. 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month,” he said.
Lindquist said that in Pierce County only defendants whose sole charge is misdemeanor marijuana possession will have their cases dismissed. The charge will stand if it is secondary to a more serious charge, such as drunken driving, he said.
The Pierce County cases most likely will be dismissed next week, Lindquist said. Such cases are a small fraction of the 10,000 misdemeanor cases Pierce County files each year, he added.
Voters in Pierce and King counties supported passage of I-502, with close to 54 percent of Pierce County voters approving the initiative and about 64 percent of King County voters supporting the measure.
King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said Friday his deputies immediately will stop arresting people caught with less than an ounce of pot, if that was their only offense.
“Now that the initiative has passed, and now that the Prosecutor’s Office won’t be charging the individuals, we will also not focus on behavior that will be legal under Washington State law after Dec. 6,” Strachan said.
That decision applies only in unincorporated areas of King County, the sheriff said. It would be up to the municipalities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services to decide what they want to do between now and Dec. 6, he said.
It was unclear if the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department will follow suit. Attempts to reach spokesman Ed Troyer were unsuccessful.
In addition of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, I-502 creates a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, where adults over 21 can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644