Sunday, May 5, 2013

Marijuana law jeopardizes all pot prosecutions

Prosecutors and crime lab scientists say a little-noticed provision in Washington's new law legalizing recreational marijuana has jeopardized their ability to go after any pot crimes at all, and they're calling for an immediate fix in the Legislature. The group is suggesting a change in the legal definition of marijuana, and they have the support of the Seattle lawyer who drafted the initiative. The problem stems from a part of the law meant to distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp, which is grown for its fiber. The law defines marijuana as having more than 0.3 percent of a certain intoxicating compound, called delta-9 THC. Scientists with the state crime lab say that often, even potent marijuana can have less than 0.3 percent. It's only when heated or burned that another compound, THC acid, turns into delta-9 THC and the pot achieves its full potency. "When you smoke it, it would be very potent, but before that, it would be considered hemp under the law," said Erik Nielson, standards and accountability manager for the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab's Forensic Lab Services Bureau. That means that if people get caught with more than an ounce of marijuana - the amount adults are allowed to have under the law - or if police bust illicit grow operations, prosecutors might not be able to prove the plants or material seized meets the definition of marijuana. Although the lab could analyze the delta-9 THC content by burning it, that would essentially tamper with the evidence seized in any case. Another option would be to buy expensive new equipment that can test for the compound without burning the plant. But money is tight, and the lab would have to spend months developing protocols for using that method. Instead, the prosecutors and crime lab scientists worked to draft legislation to fix the problem by changing the definition of marijuana. The measure, introduced Tuesday, would define marijuana as parts of the cannabis plant containing more than 0.3 percent by dry weight of combined delta-9 THC and THC acid. The bill is due to have a public hearing in a House committee Thursday. Washington voters passed Initiative 502 last fall, joining Colorado as the first states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21, and to allow the sale of taxed pot at state-licensed stores. Under Washington law, voter-approved initiatives cannot be amended within two years after passage unless lawmakers approve it by a two-thirds vote in both houses. The proposed fix for the marijuana definition is not considered controversial. It has the support of Alison Holcomb, who drafted the initiative. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime in Washington State it is imperative that you (1) assert your right to remain silent, and (2) seek the assistance of a qualified and reputable Seattle criminal attorney. The Seattle criminal attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of SQ Attorneys are highly qualified and reputable Seattle criminal lawyer that are dedicated to providing top notch, aggressive representation for those arrested for crime all across Western Washington and the Greater Puget Sound region. The team creates success by working with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to the criminal allegations are considered in creating the fairest, most equitable and just resolution possible in light of all the surrounding circumstances of the given case.

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