Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur said Wednesday she will dismiss pending marijuana possession cases against 42 people who were caught before voters made it legal to possess small amounts of pot.
“Did they get lucky? Yes, they did,” Baur said of the defendants, who were facing misdemeanor charges. “But the people have said we’re not going to criminalize marijuana, so we’re going to clear the books.”
The move is consistent with the actions of other prosecutors in the state, who said following November’s election that they would drop minor marijuana possession cases.
Washington voters decided in November to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and to create a government-sanctioned, taxed and regulated marijuana market. The law went into effect Dec. 6, but state officials said it will be about a year before the first licensed marijuana retailers open.
Following the election, Cowlitz prosecutors identified 64 pending misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, Baur said Wednesday. Of those, 22 cases are “still viable” because they involve other charges or people younger than 21. (It’s still illegal for minors to possess any amount of pot.) Those cases will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Baur said.
The remaining cases will be dismissed, she said. The vast majority of them involve people who have warrants for their arrest because they never showed up for court. The oldest case to be dismissed dates from 2008.
Baur said the relatively small number of cases pending in Cowlitz County shows that marijuana possession citations haven’t been “clogging up the system,” as some who favor legalization argued.
Cowlitz County voters didn’t favor the legalization initiative, with 53.7 percent voting against it. Still, Baur said she is not surprised voters statewide approved it, especially considering that prosecutors and police in larger counties in the Puget Sound area already were liberalizing marijuana laws. In addition, she said, medical marijuana laws were muddling enforcement against recreational uses.
Baur said she is ambivalent about voters’ decision. “I see the arguments on both sides,” she said.
“I don’t think people should necessarily go to jail because they had a marijuana joint,” Baur said, adding that a citation did carry a minimum one-day jail sentence.
But she also said: “I just worry about the message to kids about drugs in general.”
Baur said her office hasn’t notified any of the defendants that their charges are being dismissed. Many, she said, will be difficult to find because they won’t show up to court.
Those who want to know if their charges are being thrown out can call the prosecutor’s office at 360-577-3080.