Should Seattle Dismiss Citations For Smoking Pot In Public?
In the first six months of its new ordinance, the Seattle Police Department issued about 100 citations for smoking pot in public.
Now Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes said he’ll seek to have tickets written through July dismissed. His announcement goes one step further than the decision by Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to seek dismissal of all tickets written by a single police officer.
People who smoke marijuana in public in Seattle may be cited and fined $27. But Seattle officials want to track who gets cited to see if poor people or minorities are disproportionately ticketed. A report issued in July seemed to bear out those concerns.
It also became clear that a single police officer, Randy Jokela, had written most of those tickets, and scrawled some political commentary on them as well.
Deputy Chief Carmen Best said Jokela is on duty but under investigation. The police department is seeking to vacate the tickets he wrote.
“It would be unethical and imprudent for us to support having those folks get those citations when in fact the motivation was political and not just on the enforcement issue,” Best said.
Pete Holmes said his priority is to educate people to change their behavior, not necessarily to issue lots of tickets. He said dismissing those tickets would give the city a clean slate for its monitoring efforts.
“If we want to make sure we haven’t skewed our sampling, we might as well toss all tickets and effectively, hit the reset button,” Holmes said.
Police say officers have been confused about when to cite people for smoking marijuana in public.
Assistant Chief Nick Metz said officers are being told to issue a verbal warning first in most circumstances, and to issue the ticket if the problem continues. He said SPD implemented a new code to track those verbal warnings starting Sept. 2. Eight documented warnings have been issued so far.
Councilmembers said they do want to see enforcement of the ordinance. Councilmember Sally Clark said eight warnings in the month of September seems pretty low.
“I mean from Sept. 2nd until now?” she asked. “I think we could find eight if we walked from here to Pike Place Market. Easily.”
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert had called to voice her concern over dismissing all the tickets, citing problems with ongoing marijuana use around the county courthouse and downtown.
Holmes responded, “I share her concerns. Again, we want to change behavior. This is not about promoting a smoke-in in downtown Seattle.”
Metz said the police department may develop a pamphlet to distribute along with the verbal warning, especially to help tourists understand I-502 and its restrictions.