Voters Resoundingly Approve Tacoma’s Pot-Priority Initiative

A word of advice to Tacoma police and prosecutors: Blow off the pot crimes. You’ve got bigger issues to wrestle.

Or so Tacoma voters resoundingly told city law enforcement officials on Tuesday, easily passing citywide Initiative No. 1.

The ballot measure directs police and prosecutors to make “marijuana or cannabis offenses … the lowest enforcement priority of the City of Tacoma.”

After final ballot tallies Tuesday night, I-1 was coasting to approval, winning close to 65 percent of the vote. It needed only a simple majority to pass.

“This is not just a squeaky little win, this is a supermajority here,” said Sherry Bockwinkel, a medical marijuana patient and one of the measure’s co-petitioners.

Even if I-1 passed, the city’s top law enforcement officials have said the new law likely wouldn’t change how they act. They claim marijuana offenses aren’t an enforcement priority now.

In theory, the measure will allow city police and prosecutors to cast a blind eye toward misdemeanor marijuana crimes, giving discretion to Tacoma’s police chief and city attorney to define what “lowest enforcement priority” means.

Modeled after Seattle’s Initiative 75, a ballot measure passed in 2003, I-1’s supporters contend the new law will free onerous amounts of public resources from being wasted in pursuit of what’s largely a low-impact personal choice.

It will also allow sick people in Tacoma with valid marijuana prescriptions to use their medicine of choice without fear of legal consequence, they said.

Backers of the measure pushed to take I-1 to voters after a gubernatorial veto left standing only some of the changes state lawmakers made to the medical marijuana law this year.

The main idea was to protect legitimate medical marijuana patients – not to legalize pot, Bockwinkel and other supporters have said.

No group formed to oppose I-1, but the city’s top law enforcement authorities said the initiative wasn’t necessary. They pointed to statistics showing pot crimes already aren’t a priority. Police Chief Don Ramsdell has added if the measure passed, he doesn’t envision changes in how his officers work.

But with Tuesday’s victory, Bockwinkel suggested “public servants now need to listen to the public.”

“We hope police understand we’ve sent them a message,” she added. “Lowest enforcement means lowest enforcement. That means no arrests for marijuana possession under 40 grams, period.”

Supporters point to Seattle when contending Tacoma can de-emphasize enforcement of marijuana offenses even more than they do now. Since City Attorney Pete Holmes took office in 2010, pot prosecutions have dropped from 90 cases in 2009 to just one over the past 23 months. Tacoma prosecuted 463 marijuana cases in 2010 and 159 so far in 2011.

With I-1’s passage, Tacoma has proved it’s “no longer in Seattle’s shadow,” Bockwinkel added.

– Article originally from The News Tribune.