A 19-year-old arrested by a Washington State Patrol trooper on suspicion of carrying less than an ounce of pot, cash, baggies and a scale faces a felony charge – an illustration of the state’s continued tough stance on illicit pot.
Under Washington state laws, the 22 grams of marijuana discovered in a bag inside the car Analisa Martin was driving – 6 grams less than what is allowed for a 21-year-old to possess for recreational use – carries the same potential legal penalty as dealing heroin, cocaine or LSD.
Martin was released without bond by a judge Tuesday afternoon. She faces a charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. A WSP trooper pulled her over early Tuesday for allegedly speeding in Airway Heights.
Martin told the trooper the bag belonged to a friend, according to court documents. Her mother eventually consented to a search of the car after the trooper called, saying he would apply for a search warrant based on the smell of “fresh marijuana” coming from the car.
State courts have repeatedly said the smell of pot is enough to obtain a warrant to search property, despite objections from medicinal marijuana users, defense attorneys and civil rights activists that such a standard ignores decriminalization laws passed by Washington voters and the Legislature.
Martin, who was ticketed for speeding, has no other criminal history. She declined comment on Wednesday.
Some state and federal lawmakers have attempted, so far unsuccessfully, to reclassify marijuana under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana, a Schedule I drug, remains in the same category as illicit substances for which there is no accepted medical use such as heroin, peyote and some forms of amphetamines.
State Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, is among several Washington lawmakers who have supported legislation that would ask the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug. Schedule II substances have a recognized medical purpose, and include the painkillers hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone.
Billig said his support of the resolution comes down to “common-sense government.”
“We have a safe product, that is clearly being used by our neighbors, friends and citizens, for medicinal purposes, that the federal government says has no medicinal value,” Billig said.
The resolution, drafted by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has not received a floor vote in the Senate, which has been controlled by a Republican-led coalition. Similar bills at the federal level, citing the approved medical use of cannabis in 22 states and Washington, D.C., also have gone nowhere.
The reforms would have little effect on Martin’s case. Under the Controlled Substances Act, anyone found possessing a Schedule I, II, III or IV drug with the intention to sell on the illicit market may be charged with a class C felony, which carries a potential five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.
Minors found to unlawfully possess alcohol face a misdemeanor charge and potential revocation of their driver’s license under Washington law. The maximum jail time for the misdemeanor is up to a year.
Law enforcement agents are prohibited from criminally charging licensed marijuana growers, processors and sellers who take part in the state’s newly established, voter-approved recreational market and follow the rules.
Users who possess more than an ounce of pot or consume marijuana in public areas can be cited by law enforcement, according to state law.
So far this year, 20 citations have been issued for marijuana possession and use within city limits, according to Howard Delaney, administrator of the Spokane Municipal Court. That’s about a quarter of the number of citations over the same time period issued by police in Seattle, including one officer responsible for more than 60 tickets, according to the Seattle Times.
Seattle police have said they will not search vehicles for marijuana unless they receive evidence the driver is “trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law.”
Citation figures for Spokane County were not readily available.