A new Liberty Lake ordinance allows police to ticket minors for being high in public – even if they don’t possess marijuana.
Police say the law is intended to close a gap in Initiative 502, which criminalized minors possessing marijuana but said nothing about underage use.
“We just want to really send a strong message, at least in our community, that that’s not going to be tolerated,” police Chief Brian Asmus said.
But some say the ordinance overreaches, giving police the power to ticket teenagers for normal behavior.
Police can now write a $50 ticket to minors who have the odor of marijuana on their breath in public, provided they’re found with or in close proximity to the drug or appear to be under the influence based on speech and behavior.
Frank Cikutovich, a Spokane attorney who specializes in marijuana defense, said that means police “could go down to any skate park in town and say ‘Everyone looks like they’re high because of the way they’re dressed and the way they’re acting.’ ”
Jeffry Finer, senior counsel for the Center for Justice in Spokane, said the wording leaves too much leeway for police to infer marijuana consumption from behavior that might be caused by anything from a medical condition to just being a teenager.
“It is not illegal to appear to be high,” he said.
The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, city attorney and city drug recognition expert have all reviewed the ordinance’s language, Asmus said. Officers will receive training from officer Mike Thomas, a state-certified drug recognition expert and instructor. Training will cover physical signs of marijuana consumption, like having dilated pupils, as well as behavior.
The ordinance passed Oct. 7 and is based on Washington law addressing alcohol consumption by minors. People under age 21 who appear intoxicated can be charged for consuming alcohol, whether they have any with them.
It helps police address situations where someone reports young people smoking marijuana in a public place.
“By the time our officers get there and respond, likely the marijuana is gone … but based on that complaint, we can contact this group of juveniles and determine whether they’re impaired,” Asmus said.
But using odor as a proxy for consumption is harder to do with marijuana, Cikutovich said. “If I’m at home tonight and I smoke marijuana legally and my kids are around me … they might go to school smelling like marijuana,” he said. “It’s not against the law to be in close proximity to marijuana.”
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