Spokane County prosecutors are following colleagues from King, Pierce and Clark counties in saying they will no longer prosecute adults 21 and older for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
“We are not going to prosecute any new cases,” said Jack Driscoll, chief criminal deputy Spokane County prosecutor, following passage last week by Washington voters of a marijuana-legalization law. “After Dec. 6, it is legal to possess an ounce” if you are 21 or older, he said.
Just last week, Driscoll said his interpretation of the law was that possession of “black market” marijuana is still illegal because the initiative required sales to be managed by a state-run system of producing and selling recreational amounts of the drug.
But a provision of Initiative 502 also eliminates the laws that prosecutors have cited in those possession cases, he said.
The impact will be minimal, Driscoll added. The county currently only has one possession case that would fall under the new guidelines.
Prosecutors have another five cases involving people who were younger than 21 at the time of their arrest. “Those won’t be affected,” he said.
Another nine cases of marijuana possession have been charged on top of other felonies.
“Those will be worked out as part of the negotiation process,” Driscoll said. “You still can’t legally sell it. That’s still a delivery charge. But it’s legal to possess it.”
Local defense attorney Frank Cikutovich said he’s received dozens of phone calls and text messages from clients inquiring about how the law affects them.
“It basically comes down to what county you are in,” he said.
For example, prosecutors in Yakima County had been prosecuting marijuana possession charges even against people who had medical marijuana cards. In Davenport, anyone caught with less than an ounce of marijuana had been facing a night in jail.
Even before the law was approved, prosecutors in Spokane would reduce the misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession to an infraction for first offenders, said Cikutovich, who said he handles about 100 marijuana possession cases a year.
To avoid prosecution under the new law, Cikutovich said residents should say nothing if they are caught with less than an ounce of weed.
“You can’t prove where I got it. I may have gotten it for a medical purpose … I may have found it in the woods,” he said. “The problem is when police officers say, ‘Hey, it’s legal now. Where did you get it?’ Ultimately, the client screws himself because he opened his mouth.”
Despite the apparent legalization of possession, Cikutovich said he did not support the initiative because of the provision it set for driving under the influence. The initiative now says drivers can be charged with DUI if blood tests reveal more than 5 nanograms per milliliter of active THC.
“There is no medical basis for that at all,” Cikutovich said. “I have medical users who are not affected by that amount at all because they are regular users.”
Federal officials still have not publicly stated how they will react to the new law in Washington and a similar change in Colorado.
Cikutovich said he was meeting with Roger Peven, a former federal public defender, to develop a seminar to give residents the best information they can “so you can be as legal as possible.”
“I could be meeting four clients a day to tell them the same stuff,” he said, “but we really don’t know anything yet.”