Stevens County, Washington, is a conservative, rural county in the northeastern part of the state, just north of Spokane. It voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by a 62%-34% vote and against I-502 marijuana legalization by 54%-46%.
But in a new column just submitted to The Stateman-Examiner in the county seat of Colville, County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen says he will be joining prosecutors in King, Pierce, and Clark Counties in not prosecuting marijuana possession cases that will no longer be illegal after I-502 goes into effect December 6th.
This past election, a majority of the persons who voted choose to legalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana by persons who are over 21 years old. The law left unchanged the rules that apply to medical marijuana, allowing those persons to possess more if they are qualified users and have the necessary documentation. The new law establishes a legal limit of active marijuana in the blood for purposes of charging DUI.
The new law takes effect on December 6. The law is not to be applied retroactively, but it is only effective as to cases arising after December 6. The law change affects all county Prosecutors, requiring them to make decisions about whether to continue prosecution efforts on existing cases or dismiss them and whether to charge new cases or not charge new cases.
It is my understanding that some counties have chosen to continue prosecutions until the day the law changes and some have chosen to immediately dismiss all existing cases. Some counties are choosing to take more of a middle approach; keeping the charge when it is associated with a DUI or other crime, but dismissing the marijuana charge if there was no other criminal misconduct associated.
I have decided to approach this decision along the line of this last group. We will make an individual decision on each set of facts. I do believe it does not make much sense to devote scarce resources of time and effort, court time and defense counsel appointments, to cases where the conduct will be legal in a matter of days.
The people have spoken, perhaps they have misspoken, but only the passage of time will reveal whether or not this law promotes the safety and security of the people of this state or is a threat to it.