Tacoma Resoundingly Passes Lowest Priority For Pot Enforcement


Steve Elliott ~alapoet~
Tacoma Police officers hassle booth vendors selling pipes at this year’s Tacoma Hempfest in June. Police claimed that pot was “already their lowest priority,” but voters made it official on Tuesday.

​Voters in Tacoma, Washington, just south of Seattle, sent a powerful message Tuesday to law enforcement and to state legislators in Olympia by joining Seattle in officially declaring marijuana possession laws the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority.”

Organizers Don Muridan and Sherry Bockwinkel, cosponsors of Tacoma Initiative No. 1, CannbisReformAct.org, gathered the necessary signatures and the voters of Tacoma resoundingly agreed, passing with measure with 65 percent approval.
The measure overwhelmingly passed by an almost 2:1 margin, despite being voted on in an off-year election. Modeled after Seattle’s 2003 initiative, Tacoma Initiative No. 1 makes adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement.

Paula Wissel/KPLU
Sherry Bockwinkel, campaign chair for the marijuana initiative: “This is not just a squeaky little win, this is a supermajority here”

​”This is not just a squeaky little win, this is a supermajority here,” said Bockwinkel, a medical marijuana patient,  reports Lewis Kamb at the Tacoma News Tribune.
Tacoma law enforcement officials grumpily claimed they already don’t target pot offenses and the measure “likely won’t change that.” They pointed to statistics they claimed showed that pot is already low priority, despite the fact that 463 marijuana cases were prosecuted in Tacoma last year.
Tacoma police officers earned the wrath of the cannabis community last June, when they needlessly hassled numerous booth vendors for selling pipesbelieve it or not, at the second annual Tacoma Hempfest, forcing several booths to shut down. Angry vendors said at the time that they were following the rules of city permits while offering items that head shops all over the city sell without a hassle.

Police shut down several Tacoma Hempfest booths in June, angering pipe vendors who said they were following the rules of city permits while offering items that head shops usually sell without hassle. Remember, though: Tacoma cops claim marijuana is “already” their lowest enforcement priority!

​As for Tacoma Initiative 1, Police Chief Don Ramsdell made a point of saying his department would ignore the voters, even saying if the measure passed, he “doesn’t envision changes” in how his officers work.
But with Tuesday’s big victory, Bockwinkel said “public servants now need to listen to the public.”
“We hope police understand we’ve sent them a message,” Bockwinkel said. “Lowest enforcement means lowest enforcement. That means no arrests for marijuana possession under 40 grams, period.”
One of the most amusing things about I-1’s overwhelming passage is that it comes in the wake of a badly researched, badly written editorial pooh-poohing the measure last month from the notoriously anti-marijuana Tacoma News Tribune. The overwrought editorial even dragged out the old Reefer Madness argument, claiming strains of highly potent marijuana “trigger schizophrenia, among other problems.”
“Initiative 1 doesn’t distinguish one kind of marijuana from another,” the News Tribune editorialized, evidently expecting us to join them in their anguish. “For that matter, it doesn’t distinguish possession of an ounce from possession of five pounds. It simply tells police not to bother with possession.
“It might well lead to open smoking of the drug, in parks and on the streets, after police have been told to look the other way,” the overly dramatic editorial claimed.
Backers of the measure pushed to put I-1 on the ballot after Gov. Christine Gregoire’s veto earlier this year left standing only a few of the changes state legislators made to Washington’s medical marijuana law.
“Although more than 200 people were charged last year with minor marijuana possession in Tacoma, the city attorney has called the initiative unnecessary, arguing that marijuana charges are already a low priority in Tacoma,” said Robert Capecchi, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Well, now that’s official.”
“Yesterday’s vote was about more than a legal technicality,” Capecchi said Wednesday morning. “The broad support enjoyed by Initiative No. 1 demonstrates the overarching sentiment expressed by voters: marijuana prohibition has failed.
“Police should stop wasting time arresting people for using a substance safer than alcohol and instead spend that time protecting or community from violent criminals and other real threats to public safety,” Capecchi said. “Let’s hope Tacoma-area elected officials are listening.”