A group advocating for relaxed enforcement of marijuana laws by Spokane police is set to appear before the Spokane City Council on Monday.
Citizens for a Sensible Spokane seeks council approval of a ballot initiative to make marijuana offenses the “lowest law enforcement priority,” below all other felony or misdemeanor crimes. The aim, organizers said, is to make it easier for medical marijuana dispensaries to distribute the drug.
“It doesn’t make marijuana legal,” said Ian Moody, spokesman for the grass-roots initiative. “But it does take the pressure off dispensaries so they are able to assist patients more freely.”
Proposed initiatives are reviewed by the city attorney’s office, who assists in developing the language of the ballot title and summary, and offers a legal opinion to the council. The council is then asked to either put it on the ballot, or have the petition supporters gather signatures from the public.
The marijuana initiative was filed with the Spokane city clerk on Nov. 4. Moody said he had just received the city attorney’s legal opinion Friday, and needed more time to make changes to the proposed initiative before a council vote.
“I was under the impression that … we would have time to further revise the language,” and Citizens for a Sensible Spokane may ask for the council to reschedule the vote, Moody said.
Council President Joe Shogan said if anything happens Monday, the council is likely to give the group its blessing to go out and collect signatures.
“I really doubt we are going to pass it just on its own,” Shogan said.
The initiative was created in response to the September raid of a medical marijuana dispensary on Northwest Boulevard called Change. It was the first such police action on medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, one of 14 states in the nation with laws governing medical marijuana use.
Prosecutors and police say medical marijuana dispensaries, which serve hundreds of people, are illegal. Washington voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, and the state Legislature set possession limits last year at a pound and a half per person or 15 plants. The state law allows a person to provide medical marijuana to one authorized patient “at any one time.”
But how users who don’t grow can obtain marijuana legally hasn’t been addressed.
Change owners Scott Shupe and Christopher Stevens were arrested for felony delivery of a controlled substance after a four-month police investigation that centered on them providing marijuana to more than one authorized patient, previous reports show. No charges have been filed with the courts.
Moody said the cases are proof the system is flawed, and that “there’s a lot larger demand than the system is providing for.” The initiative says the current marijuana policies “needlessly harm medical marijuana patients,” and that “decades of arresting millions of marijuana users has failed to control use or reduce its availability.”
It also states that law enforcement resources would be better spent “fighting serious and violent crimes,” and that Spokane should be in control of marijuana policies locally, not the federal government.
“I appreciate the arguments that it ought to be this, or ought to be that, but federally marijuana is still a scheduled drug. Period,” said Jim McDevitt, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.
McDevitt said his office does not prosecute individual medical marijuana users, and never has, even before the Justice Department’s directive in October to end federal prosecution of state-authorized medical marijuana patients and dispensaries.
“I don’t have the resources to go after grandpa or grandma who have a couple of joints of marijuana,” McDevitt said. He’s more concerned with larger grow and distribution operations, and organized crime resulting from it.
“Marijuana is still the biggest cash drug for the Mexican drug cartels,” he said. And Washington ranks No. 2 in the nation for the number of outdoor marijuana grows.
“Spokane can legislate all day long, it’s still a scheduled drug, and we will still target those who abuse the drug,” McDevitt said. “You can’t claim to be the Rite Aid of medical marijuana distribution; it’s not permitted under the law.”