Editorials & Opinion: Saturday, August 10, 2002

Guest columnist

I-75 is not a superfluous haze

By Andrew Ko
Special to The Times

Today: marijuana law enforcement needs monitoring

The statement made by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen that he "(has) confidence that law enforcement has not made marijuana arrests of casual pot smokers a high priority in the city of Seattle" is encouraging. ("Marijuana measure may be superfluous, some officials say," Times, Local News, July 26.) If Owen agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington that marijuana users should not be arrested, that would be one more good reason to pass Seattle Initiative 75.

But, unattributed claims that the reforms proposed by I-75 would create additional burdens on the police are disingenuous. Clearly, not wasting tax dollars hunting and arresting people for marijuana does not require additional resources. And, the reporting provision of I-75 that requires the Seattle Police Department and City Attorney's Office to report marijuana arrests and prosecutions twice a year is hardly "burdensome," since the city should already be tracking these cases. Seattle's residents have a right to expect their municipal government to account for official acts that have such devastating effects on everyday people, their children and their neighbors.

For decades, police in Seattle and throughout Washington have arrested people for using and growing marijuana. The City Attorney's Office may report that it pursued fewer than 150 marijuana misdemeanor prosecutions last year, but that figure appears to exclude people charged in Seattle by the King County Prosecutor's Office and the total number of people arrested for marijuana by the SPD. Nor does the city attorney's figure account for the thousands of Seattle residents who are exposed to arrest and prosecution daily for doing something that alcohol users and tobacco smokers do with no fear of criminal punishment.

Who would claim that racial profiling is OK if "only" a hundred or so African Americans were arrested for "being in the wrong neighborhood"? How many people would advocate that their friends and neighbors lose their eligibility for educational loans, job opportunities, their family's home and the right to vote, based on conduct that was not violent and affected no one else's property? Yet, these all can be the consequences of a marijuana conviction — and sometimes even simply a marijuana arrest.

Initiative 75 is not "superfluous." Passing I-75 is the right thing to do. We should make it our law.

Andrew Ko is director of the Drug Policy Reform Project of the ACLU of Washington.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company