61 local pot cases to be dismissed Thursday

Action comes as new law takes effect

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A 32-year-old Beaverton, Ore., man was speeding at rush hour on Sept. 25.

He was heading southbound near the Interstate 5 Bridge when a Washington State Patrol trooper, parked on the side of the freeway with a speed-detection laser, observed that he was traveling 78 mph in a 60-mph zone, according to the trooper's affidavit.

When the trooper went to the driver's window of the 2001 Acura, he smelled the odor of marijuana and asked the driver if there was any in the car.

"Yeah," the man replied, producing a glass jar of marijuana from the center console, according to the affidavit.

A routine traffic stop had just gotten complicated. The Beaverton man faced not only an expensive speeding ticket but possibly a much steeper fine if he were found guilty of marijuana possession.

He won't have to worry about that anymore.

The defendant is one of more than 60 people whose misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases will be dropped Thursday in Clark County District Court as a result of Initiative 502, which legalizes recreational use of up to 1 ounce of marijuana in Washington. The law goes into effect Thursday.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve said 61 defendants will benefit from the new law. They all are at least age 21 and allegedly possessed about 28 grams or less of marijuana.

King, Pierce and Spokane counties also adopted similar or more lenient policies, Fairgrieve said.

Prosecutors have said the measure will not affect other cases, such as delivery of marijuana or felony possession cases.

Initiative 502 was approved Nov. 6, with 55.7 percent of the vote.

Since then, no defendants accused of possessing up to 1 ounce of marijuana were convicted, Fairgrieve said.

"It appears that all of the defendants and their attorneys were aware that the passage of the initiative might have a positive impact on their cases," he said.

That means they held off on plea agreements and delayed hearings.

Fairgrieve said even though recreational marijuana use was illegal at the time the to-be-dismissed cases were filed, the state Legislature gave prosecutors leeway to decline to prosecute "where prosecution would serve no public purpose, would defeat the underlying purpose of the law … or would result in decreased respect for the law."

He said prosecuting the cases costs money and wouldn't serve as a deterrent or public protection, given voters' verdict on recreational marijuana use.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.