According to the American Civil Liberties Union, misdemeanor marijuana possession charges have dropped dramatically since voters passed Initiative-502 in 2012. Court records show that there were only 120 low-level cases brought to the courts in 2013 compared to a whopping 5,531 in 2012. They say that represents a major shift in law enforcement priorities towards real crimes.
But talk to the King County prosecutor’s office and you’ll get a different story: misdemeanor pot charges weren’t a major issue before the laws, and they aren’t really now.
“The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals – to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources,” the ACLU said in a press release accompanying the study.
But on the ground, that’s not really doing much to free up court times.
“There’s no great relief of workload,” King County deputy chief of staff Ian Goodhew told the AP. “All this has meant is maybe our calendar in District Court in the Seattle division is maybe, instead of 46 cases in a day, 44 or 43 or 42. We’re no longer filing misdemeanor marijuana cases, but we were not expending any significant resources on those cases at the time I-502 passed.”
Goodhew is blowing it off, but the numbers don’t really lie. Misdemeanor pot charges in his county have dropped from 1,439 in 2009 to just 14 last year – likely charges for more than one ounce of herb but less than 40 grams, which is still a misdemeanor charge in the state. Nevertheless, cops just can’t accept it.
“If we took speeding off the books, that would free up time,” said Mitch Barker, director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “If we took robbery off the books, that would free up time.”
Except, of course, that those are real crimes he mentioned and personal use of cannabis isn’t.
Sadly, the freeing up of resources hasn’t meant a reduction in racial profiling. According to the ACLU, black Washingtonians are still three times as likely to be charged as their white counterparts.