Counties dropping pending marijuana charges since it will be legal soon

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Now that it will be legal to carry pot in just a few weeks, courts are figuring out how to handle those already in trouble for this crime. Some counties in Washington already decided they won't bother prosecuting outstanding cases.

County Prosecutors Shawn Sant and Andy Miller dig through their files. Criminal cases constantly come into the Franklin County and Benton County offices. Many involve marijuana use.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller says, "We're having 5-10 a week."

For many counties, it doesn't make good money sense to follow through with current prosecutions when marijuana will soon be legal to carry. King, Pierce, Clark, Whitman and Lincoln County prosecutors decided to drop all pending marijuana charges on their dockets following the passing of Initiative-502.

KEPR wanted to know if the same could happen here in the Tri-Cities.

Miller says, "We are going through them case by case."

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller may dismiss pending cases of marijuana possession, depending on a suspect's criminal record, arrest situation and the amount of weed involved.

Franklin County doesn't have as many cases as Benton. It's only filed charges on 35 this year. 10 are under review and not expected to be dismissed. Sant understands voters might prefer to save the time and money on prosecution.

But Sant argues, "Not as much as the idea as following the law."

Many voted in favor of Initiative-502 so that police could focus on more serious crimes. But I learned the current impact of marijuana possession isn't what's burdening our local court system.
Suspects caught with marijuana are usually in trouble for other crimes as well.

Sant explains, "I'd almost equate it to a seatbelt violation. Sometimes that's a primary offense but for the most part they're getting pulled over for speeding or something and they're found with their not to be worn. This is kinda the same thing."

Prosecutors think the change could actually bring an increase in more people growing or selling marijuana, which will still be illegal.

KEPR reporter Melanie Tubbs asks, "Do you think this could be a slippery slope to other kinds of drugs being legalized?"
"No. No. I really don't," Miller replies.

County prosecutors across Washington will meet at the end of the month before this law goes into effect, so that it's followed in a standard method.

KEPR also contcted Walla Walla's prosecutor to learn of their plan on outstanding marijuana possession cases. We did not hear back. The majority of voters in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla Counties rejected Initiative-502.