The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Kelly Shipp
For the Sentinel 

City police facing new challenges in pot law


On Dec. 6, possession of marijuana becomes legal across Washington, after Initiative 502 (I-502) passed the general vote last month, ending a 70-year prohibition. The legalization of possession is the first stage of the two-part initiative.

“We are still trying to figure out how this is all going to work,” says Goldendale Police Chief Rick Johnson. “Possession under an ounce is legal for adults under state law, but you can’t buy it, sell it, or grow it. Those actions are still a felony. That’s where the confusion is across the state.”

The intent of the initiative is to stop treating adult marijuana use as a crime and try a new approach rather than continue prohibition. The aim is to allow law enforcement resources to be focused on violent and property crimes; generate new state and local tax revenue for education, health care, research, and substance abuse prevention; and put marijuana under a tightly regulated, state-licensed system similar to that for controlling hard alcohol.

I-502 authorizes the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) to regulate and tax marijuana for persons 21 years of age and older, and add a new limit for driving under the influence of marijuana.

“We will be focusing on drivers’ education,” says Johnson, “since it now falls under DUI law. I-502 put into place the limit of five nanograms of THC.” The new marijuana DUI law operates like the current alcohol DUI law and applies only to active THC, which is present in the body for hours after being consumed. Inactive metabolite carboxy-THC, which can be detected for days or weeks after use, does not fall under the DUI law. Police officers still need proof of impairment to make an arrest or give a citation.

The initiative prohibits public use and display of marijuana. “You can’t be walking down the street smoking a joint,” says Johnson. “That is still a criminal, ticketable offense.” Johnson continues that the Police Department is going to continue their drug education programs for minors. “There is still a zero tolerance for juveniles,” he says.

The secondary part of I-502 doesn’t kick in until Dec 1, 2013, to allow the WSLCB to put into place regulatory systems for licensing, distribution, and taxation. “We expect that it will take the full year to craft the necessary rules which will provide the framework for the new system,” said a representative of the WSLCB in a press release sent to The Sentinel on Nov. 7. “As we develop the rules we will keep in mind our top priority—public safety.” The press release also stated that the WSLCB will be working with the Washington State Patrol, the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and others affected by I-502. Washington farmers and businesses will be allowed to apply for special licenses to grow and sell marijuana through the WSLCB.

Once marijuana is legal for sale to adults over 21 next year, it will only be available in stores that sell no other products. These stores must be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, and parks, and they cannot display marijuana in a way that is at all visible to the public. WSLCB will regulate numbers of stores per county and other health and safety issues. I-502 restricts advertising of marijuana and marijuana stores and bans advertising in places frequented by youth.

A 25 percent sales tax will be implemented on all marijuana sales. Forty percent of the new tax revenues will go to the state general fund and local budgets, and the remainder will be dedicated to substance-abuse prevention and education.

Marijuana is still illegal by federal law. Over the next year state, county, and local authorities will be implementing I-502 and figuring out how to control and regulate marijuana sales while it is still prohibited at the federal level. The public can get more information at


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