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January 2, 2014

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Officer Alex ponders the brave new world of weed

In a very Jim Breuer/Dave Chappelle kind of way, the city of Seattle, Washington is living the dream. Effective December 6, 2012, initiative 502 went into effect, meaning it is no longer a violation of state law to use and possess certain quantities of marijuana in Washington. Put simply, you can have weed and use weed, but you’re only supposed to use it in the privacy of your own home.

More importantly, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300-plus officers via email that until further notice, “officers shall not take any enforcement action other than to issue a verbal warning for a violation of I-502.” 

It’s kind of unbelievable. If you’re over 21, you can use marijuana and possess marijuana (up to an ounce of marijuana buds, or 16 ounces of solid marijuana infused product, or 72 ounces of infused-in-liquid, like oil). But the law also clearly states that you’re not supposed to use marijuana in public, and that selling it or giving it to anyone is still a felony. (The state was still working on setting up the system to license growers and sellers at the time this went into effect, because obviously what could go wrong if these things were not in place already?)

In short? Smoking or selling weed in public is still against the law, but officers have been instructed to basically ignore it.

Now, there is a separate policy that Seattle’s mayor has implemented known as the Center City Initiative, in which police are required to direct the mentally unstable offenders they encounter into social services before arresting them for the crimes.

No matter how noble the intentions, both of these mandates dictate that officers selectively enforce these laws. 

Don’t get me wrong! I love it. If you find what you deem to be a “crazy person” breaking the law because “they are crazy,” you don’t arrest them for breaking the law. That’s nice. And if you catch someone selling a small amount of weed or using weed in public, you ignore that law as well. Look, my lunch breaks just got longer.

 As the failed war on drugs has shown, it’s a waste of resources. And as the war against state assistance of the mentally ill has also indicated, jail is a waste of resources for them as well. 

But look a bit more carefully at this and the solution to these two long-perceived problems has created a third problem: We are taking police discretion to a new level, from creating a system of laws for them to enforce (and to then allow a judge to use discretion on for very specific Constitutional reasons), to allowing them to use their discretion on enforcement, to flat-out telling them that you’re allowed to enforce some laws but not others, so when problems arise? You can then blame the police for not enforcing the laws they were told to not enforce, because they need to focus on the real laws and not the fake laws that they may or may not be allowed to enforce, and then be further annoyed at them for being confused by this. And yes, you read that correctly.

You see, as it turns out, violent crime in the downtown business district of Seattle has jumped since last December and business owners are rightfully pissed. Nuisance crimes like urinating in public and open drug use are being ignored, and police are being hammered for what is termed as “de-policing” as a result of these conflicting policies. 

During this era of ignoring marijuana use and selectively arresting based on a street cop’s assessment of someone’s mental stability (as opposed to psychiatrists’ and psychologists’), the Seattle Police Department is also under a consent decree by the Department of Justice due to its frequency in violating civil rights by engaging in a pattern of excessive force. So on one hand the federal government is telling them to curb their policing because they are exhibiting a pattern of excessive force. Then on the other hand, you have local city attorneys and politicians telling them to not enforce certain laws at all. So when crime spikes from this de-escalation, why…the police are at fault for that also. As NWA said, after all, “Eff the Police.”

Because of conflicting and confusing policies like these, no one will take the job of being the Seattle police chief, so as the interim chief Jim Pugel very wisely puts it, “We do have somewhat of a fickle group of folks that we serve. They want order, they want a crime-free area, but they want it done in a particular...what we call the Seattle way.”

At some point, I have to be honest here: Someone’s going to have to actually make up their mind and let police police, or just do the next most fair thing and reinstitute a feudal system. Until then, though, wearing our own handcuffs makes it hard to plug our ears and cover our eyes and still do the fundamentals. Just food for thought in case this nonsense “spreads.”

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