Seattle city attorney discusses issues around new pot law
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes sat down with us recently to talk pot.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has long been an ardent supporter of legalizing marijuana.
He campaigned on not prosecuting marijuana-possession charges and was elected in 2009. Three years later, he campaigned for I-502, the initiative Washington voters eventually approved to allow marijuana for recreational use.
Holmes was second in line to buy pot at Seattle’s first pot store, Cannabis City, the day it opened. He later apologized for bringing the weed back to his office that afternoon.
Now that possession of up to an ounce is legal, Holmes still has a hand in shaping Seattle’s pot policy.
We sat down with him recently for his take on how things are going, and where legalization is headed.
Why did he make a public display of buying pot?
“When I purchased the marijuana I was wearing my city-attorney pin and I held it up. That was city business. I was elected to help change this policy in this important way. I intentionally went to help make these stores be successfully launched.”
What does he plan to do with the two 2-gram packages he bought?
“There’s a time capsule they’re going to bury sometime in the next six months down in Olympia, and I’ve been asked to contribute for posterity. I’ve also wanted to build ... an heirloom kind of display.”
Has he consumed since legalization?
“I have refrained from answering that ... I’ve said before, this is not just for others to enjoy, but for me, too.”
What about the rule for Seattle city employees that says if you bring marijuana to the workplace in your body, you’re considered in possession of pot?
“If someone is using marijuana on the weekend, it’s no different in my mind if someone goes to a dinner party Friday. ... (That rule is) just silly. ...
“It needs to be treated, in all respects, more like alcohol.”
What about the recent news that one Seattle police officer, Randy Jokela, wrote 80 percent of all tickets for using marijuana in public this year, and often added a note addressing them to “Petey Holmes”?
“We clearly stumbled out of the box on this one. It shows one person can derail what is supposed to be a citywide program. What I think we should do is simply hit the reset button. ...
“My first concern was homeless people and minorities were issued tickets and essentially harassed in an attempt to poke me in the eye.”
Should Jokela be punished?
“That’s up to the chief. ... I believe in redemption stories.”
How might legalization help the city?
“There’s no reason Seattle shouldn’t benefit from marijuana tourism. ... Having just been in Denver, everyone there I spoke with said that they’ve seen a surge of interest. Most cabbies say the first or second question they get is, ‘Where can I buy marijuana?’
“There’s no reason Seattle shouldn’t capitalize on that. But we can do it in a sane manner.”
What’s I-502’s biggest remaining hurdle?
“The biggest issue, of course, facing us now in this ramp-up period to 502, is how the Legislature will or will not deal with the medical-marijuana issue. People still characterize it as a huge gray issue, but it’s the single most important gap in the tight supply system that the feds are looking for from the states.”
What about jurisdictions such as the city of Fife that have banned pot businesses?
“Some of these localities act as if 502 invented marijuana. ... The notion that a local prohibition is going to keep marijuana out of their jurisdictions is naive.”
Is he still worried about federal prohibition?
“The ‘schedule one’ distinction or misapplication for marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act is just wrong. Most Americans know that. So, we’ve got to get that changed. I won’t be city attorney forever. Obama won’t be president forever. [Eric] Holder won’t be the U.S. attorney. A different administration, and this could all go down.
“One instance of a stoned school-bus driver going off a cliff somewhere or something like that and we’re going to see public opinion sway. If we have not been able to get benefits of full legalization and regulation and taxation under way, that will be a tragedy, because we won’t have been able to show an alternative works better than prohibition.”
How worried is he about losing ground?
“Ultimately, I think I’m pretty confident it’s going to work out. This 2-year-old law is analogous to me when my kids were 2-year-old toddlers and I was watching toddlers take first steps and I was nervous about it. I think we are doing it the right way in contrast to Colorado. At some point, we’re going to be the beneficiaries of a much more stable system.
“Even worst-case scenarios, where we fail to get it under control and criminal elements continue to be involved in the industry, it’s going to be really hard for governments to get the genie back in the bottle.”