Less than a week ago, voters in Washington State approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Prosecutors in the state are already acting on the decision. Around 220 misdemeanor cases involving pot possession of less than one ounce by individuals over 21 (which will be legal under the new law) have already been dismissed in the Seattle area.
“Although the effective date of I-502 [the legalization bill] is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told the Seattle Times, adding “I think when the people voted to change the policy, they weren’t focused on when the effective date of the new policy would be. They spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense."
According to the Seattle Times, "Satterberg is the first prosecutor to change charging policy after I-502, but other prosecutors are also considering these cases. Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said his office 'just starting to work through those issues.'"
Although legalization ballot measures passed in both Washington and Colorado, state legislatures are still in the process of deciding details regarding sales licensing, regulations and taxes. News of dismissed misdemeanor cases in Washington will no doubt please the pro-legalization advocates, many of whom highlighted the problems with marijuana arrests in states where the drug was already decriminalized (such as Colorado prior to last week's full legalization decision).
As Salon reported, a report released ahead of last Tuesday's vote found that, of the more than 200,000 people who have been arrested in Colorado for marijuana possession since 1986, a disproportionate amount of black and Latino young people were targeted. The report highlighted the potentially ruinous effects of even misdemeanor charges. For 220 individuals in Washington with marijuana possession cases already dismissed, these risks are already history.