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County drops 60 pot cases
POULSBO — Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge is dismissing 60 pending marijuana-related cases, based on new legal framework from Initiative 502.
The initiative, approved by voters in November, takes effect Dec. 6.
Hauge’s office began reviewing specific cases — adults older than 21 whose sole charge is possession of 40 grams or less of marijuana — after the passage of I-502, which legalized up to an ounce of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. The law also set up a framework for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana in the state.
Some of the cases go back more than 10 years.
“Although it may be a violation of federal law, even after Dec. 6, the only agency that could prosecute those cases would be us,” Hauge said. He added that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has “made plain” in the last few years they’re not interested in pursuing misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
“There’s no reason for us to go forward and spend the resources of the state in trying to prosecute something that in less than a month is no longer going to be criminal,” Hauge said in a previous interview. “That would be a useless act.”
On the other hand, the federal government can involve itself in this law on a broader level.
“It’s entirely likely the federal government could and would tie up funds or take other steps to make doing business in Washington more difficult if, say, the second half of the initiative took effect,” Hauge said, referring to the state Liquor Control Board’s authorization to control the production and distribution of marijuana.
Hauge also pointed out the tie-ups for potential businesses that want to sell marijuana — banks won’t lend to this type of business or risk violating federal banking laws forbidding lending money to criminal enterprises.
Hauge said he doesn’t see a big change for law enforcement agencies or the county’s drug task force. Personal use of marijuana, “especially since medical marijuana became accepted,” isn’t a high priority. Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines are what’s on their radar.
In an interview with the Central Kitsap Reporter, Hauge said his office has been taking a deliberative approach to pot cases for quite some time.
“What we’ve been doing with marijuana cases for a long time, quite frankly, is looking at them very carefully and quite often we don’t charge a person if there is any indication of medical use. We generally don’t charge those.”