Local law enforcement waits for guidance on pot

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Local police agencies say they're waiting for the federal government, city attorneys and the Clark County Prosecutor's Office to weigh in on Initiative 502 before deciding how to proceed with enforcing new rules for recreational marijuana use.

"On a local level, there are still too many unanswered questions for me to say how this is going to look, how it will affect us," said Cmdr. Mike Cooke of the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force.

Cooke said the task force targets trafficking organizations to disrupt local drug supplies. That won't be changed after the passing of Initiative 502.

"From a drug task force perspective it may not change a whole lot," he said.

However, he suspects patrol deputies will "walk away" from anything to do with possession of marijuana by individuals.

"If we find a guy with an ounce and a half of marijuana, are we going to arrest him and put him into jail? I don't know," Cooke said.

He said it will probably be handled like speeding.

"Do you get a speeding ticket when you do 5 over or 10 over? I don't know," he said.

Sgt. Fred Neiman, spokesman for the Clark County Sheriff's Office, said his organization is seeking guidance from the Clark County Prosecutors Office on how to work with the rules from Initiative 502. He said the sheriff's administration will start looking into internal policies, including what to do if deputies want to use marijuana.

Robert Calkins, spokesman for Washington State Patrol, said the law doesn't change much for troopers around the state. Arrests have always been based on impairment, he said.

He doesn't expect more people will drive under the influence of marijuana just because it is legal.

"People who make the bad choice to drive while impaired have always made that choice," he said. "We're not convinced there's going to be a huge increase because marijuana is available."

Task force Cmdr. Cooke doesn't think making possession of less than an ounce legal will free up officers' time.

"Marijuana takes up so little of our time, there's plenty of crime to go around," he said.

He said he's interested to see how people react when neighbors are growing in their backyards and marijuana stores start popping up in strip malls.