Judge outlines changes in marijuana, liquor laws for business audience

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — New statewide ballot initiatives that legalize marijuana and broaden the distribution of alcohol have presented a host of concerns for law enforcement and the courts.

Clallam County District Court Judge Rick Porter said Monday that now that grocery stores can sell liquor, third-degree theft has increased by at least 30 percent.

Porter — speaking to an audience of about 80 people at the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce weekly luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel — said most of the thefts are committed by those younger than 21.

“They can’t buy it, but they can steal it,” he said, adding that some stores now able to sell liquor under Initiative 1183 have started hiring security guards simply to watch over the booze.

“It’s hard to steal a case of beer,” Porter said. “It’s pretty easy to steal a fifth [of liquor].”

Voters in 2011 approved alcohol-related I-1183, which made selling liquor no longer the sole purview of the state.

They also approved marijuana-related I-502, which legalized small quantities of pot.

Porter spent the bulk of his presentation Monday on I-502.

“We’re moving into a whole brave, new world, and we have no idea how it’s going to happen, but we know it’s coming,” Porter said.

Rules for implementation are scheduled for completion by Dec. 1.

“We’re still looking at the middle of next year before you can buy marijuana in this state,” he predicted.

For now, “anyone that has marijuana, unless it’s for medicinal use, is in violation of the law.”

The ballot measure legalized small quantities of licensed marijuana for those 21 and older and will tax those who grow, process and sell it.

The state Liquor Control Board will license each stage and tax each step 25 percent — a combined 75 percent tax that reaches six proposed pot stores in Clallam County and four in Jefferson County.

So a gram of marijuana will likely cost $20 compared with what is a street price of $10, Porter said.

According to the state Liquor Control Board, that means only about 13 percent to 17 percent of marijuana will be legally sold from pot stores — and the rest from street sales and medical marijuana dispensaries, Porter said.

Possession of under an ounce will be legal.

Possession of up to 40 ounces will be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Possession of more than 40 ounces will be a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

It will be against the law to drive impaired under marijuana.

The limit will be 5 nanograms of active THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana and can only be tested by a blood draw.

That level of THC can stay in the body for days or weeks, which means for habitual users who smoke the drug for recreation or medical purposes, “you can’t ever drive a car,” Porter said.

Public and private employers will still be able to prohibit marijuana use as a condition of employment.

It will still be a federal crime to possess marijuana, and it will still be a crime under the initiative to smoke marijuana in public or to grow it without a license.

Public use will be citable with a $100 fine.

And it will still be illegal to possess unlicensed pot.

“The process is supposed to mark [legal marijuana] in some way, but how you do that to a plant is beyond me,” Porter said.

Porter said visitors from out of state might come to Washington to purchase legal marijuana.

“They must consume it here,” he said.

“How they are going to drive home after that is another question.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 09. 2013 6:07PM
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