New pot law may make small difference in percentage charged

New pot law may make small difference in percentage charged

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Clark County prosecutors plan on dismissing more than 40 misdemeanor marijuana cases that aren't through the court system by Dec. 6. That's when a new law passed by voters earlier this month takes effect.

Right now having less than an ounce of pot could get you three months in jail and a thousand dollar fine in Clark County. But some wonder why not just make pot legal today?

"If they did something that now will be legal, and they're in the court system, I think they should let them off," said Becky Merrit who voted for I-502. "Our court system is so backed up now, and the money we would save by letting them go now, I think is worth it."

But jails may not be as full of small-time drug criminals as some think.

"I think it's accurate to say that's a myth," said chief deputy prosecutor John Fairgrieve whose misdemeanor drug cases are a small part of his load. "Often the marijuana is found during a search related to an arrest of an individual. So really, they're usually connected to some other charge," he said.

Only about four percent of the misdemeanor charges filed by Clark County prosecutors this year were strictly for someone having an ounce or less of pot. Those are the cases that could be dropped under the new law.

For example, in arraignment court Tuesday, there were a number of people being charged with possession and other crimes, but only one who was arraigned only on pot possession.

But big operations like the "Gang-Green" bust last October, which resulted in the arrest of more than 50 people, will still happen. Prosecutors and the regional drug task force will still go after those.

Additionally, recreational users are not entirely above the law either. The new law doesn't make it OK to, for example, drive under the influence. If you're driving erratically and police pull you over and you have less than an ounce of marijuana on you, you won't be charged for that, but you could be charged for other things.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's trip to Washington, D.C. Tuesday revealed no clues about how the federal government will handle the new marijuana law.

The governor met with Deputy Attorney General James Cole to discuss Initiative 502. She said the government hasn't decided whether to try and block the law either in Washington or in Colorado.

Gregoire asked for a response soon since Washington has already started the process to enact 502.