Recreational marijuana has been legal – and strictly regulated – in the state of Washington since January 2013. Although legalization was celebrated by many, it has also created a number of new legal issues that will have to be resolved by the lawmakers and the courts. The legality of marijuana cultivation is one of those issues. Driving under the influence of marijuana is another. An ongoing controversy in Seattle is the legality of cannabis delivery services.
Marijuana delivery in Seattle – and in fact, throughout the state of Washington – is not regulated or allowed. However, until April, the police in Seattle and King County prosecutors thought they had an understanding regarding marijuana deliveries, but it turned out to be a misunderstanding. King County prosecutors assumed the Seattle cops would not be busting pot delivery services. The Seattle Police Department assumed otherwise.
So in April, several Seattle police officers spent a full day undercover posing as pot buyers and then arresting the drivers who delivered the cannabis and charging them with felonies. However, every one of those drivers walked free – at least temporarily. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg wrote that at least one of the delivery driver arrests was “unwarranted, disproportionate to the harm caused, and would have little or no impact on the delivery business in Seattle. Consequently, I decline to prosecute.”
The all-day effort by Seattle police on April 5th nabbed drivers working for commercial cannabis delivery services that anyone can reach by telephone or online. When police officers concluded the pot purchases, the drivers were taken into custody. The pot buys ranged from $150 to $260 each. Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole defended her department’s actions by saying, “We need to send a message that black market sales will not be tolerated.”
HOW ARE POT DELIVERIES BEST REGULATED?
The feud has quieted for now, but there is still no resolution in sight regarding the delivery of marijuana in Seattle. Although felony charges against the delivery drivers were dropped by the county prosecutor, the pot couriers are now facing misdemeanor charges filed by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. The eight drivers were charged with not having a business license as required by the city. Each driver now faces a possible $1,000 fine and potentially up to 90 days in jail.
Seattle authorities have identified at least 24 different weed delivery services in the city, even though the city has licensed only 19 recreational marijuana shops. A City of Seattle report released earlier this year – titled “Reducing the Illicit Marijuana Market” – states that the delivery services “provide an outlet for marijuana grown by criminal organizations while undermining the legal industry.” The report noted that the delivery operations are not paying taxes on the pot they deliver, and it added that there is no oversight regarding pot sales to minors or pesticide use in the marijuana cultivation process.
The pot-on-wheels problem is not only the state of Washington’s. Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia also allow legal recreational cannabis for adults. None, however, allow delivery, despite the fact that marijuana delivery services are in demand and growing in those jurisdictions. California allows medical marijuana deliveries, and some firms have created apps that let customers place orders guaranteed to arrive in less than an hour.
HOW MIGHT POT DELIVERY SERVICES BECOME LEGAL?
Previously this year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Holmes supported legislation – the so-called “Uber for Pot” proposal – that would have created an experimental, model program for legal cannabis deliveries in Seattle. The proposal failed, but the questions remain. Can the delivery of pot be effectively regulated in Seattle or anywhere else? And are the police now allowed or not allowed to bust pot delivery services in Seattle?
Seattle’s City Attorney took a firm stand against unlicensed marijuana delivery back in January when his office issued a statement that said, in part: “Businesses that currently deliver marijuana undermine our efforts to demonstrate that there is a regulatory alternative to marijuana prohibition. All current delivery services are engaged in nothing less than the felony distribution of a controlled substance and must be closed.”
However, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg refused to prosecute the drivers arrested on April 5th because the Seattle police “targeted the lowest-level employees.” Satterberg wrote, “It is not clear who owns the delivery service or profits from the sale of unregulated marijuana,” and he added that “the result of this operation was to arrest and book a few individuals at the end of the supply line.”
Seattle Police Chief O’Toole disagreed publicly with Satterberg’s conclusions. She wrote: “These suspects possessed significant amounts of marijuana, up to two pounds, and a wide selection of marijuana products. At least one suspect carried Oxycodone, which amplifies our anecdotal information that these delivery services may include delivery of drugs other than marijuana.” Without the threat of criminal penalties, the chief added, “it is unlikely that suspects will cooperate with law enforcement.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CURRENT POT LAWS IN WASHINGTON?
Since January 2013, there is no law in the state of Washington penalizing the recreational marijuana possession or use of up to one ounce of marijuana. Smoking pot in public is still against the law, and a conviction for public smoking is punishable by a $100 fine. However, the illegal sale of marijuana is considered a serious felony. A conviction for the sale of marijuana in this state can land a defendant in a state prison for five to ten years. Anyone facing any of these charges – or any criminal charge connected to marijuana – will need the services and advice of an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney.
Legalized pot has brought relief to many who use it for medicinal purposes, but it has also created a great deal of legal confusion. Part of the confusion in states with legal marijuana is that regulations seem to change from year to year and from one city or county to the next. Even an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney has to work at keeping abreast of new regulations, court rulings, and the other marijuana-related legal developments that seem to be in the news daily. If you use pot or if you are in the marijuana business in the Seattle area, an experienced lawyer can answer any of your pot-related questions or concerns and help you keep it legal.