As Slog tipper Phil notes, City Attorney Tom Carr debated challenger Pete Holmes yesterday on KUOW. The host brought up the topic of Initiative 75, which made marijuana possession by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority. Carr and I were both on the panel that oversaw the implementation of the measure—passed by a wide margin by voters in 2003—but Carr insisted that he didn't have to change his practices to comply. But, in fact, Carr did change his practices after the measure passed—by prosecuting a higher percentage of pot cases referred to his office. Pot prosecutions dropped overall despite Carr because police were simply arresting fewer people for pot possession.
The host, Guy Nelson asked:
Tom Carr, apparently the number of arrests have gone down for marijuana possession, but the number of possession cases that are prosecuted have gone up and it's up to you to decide when to prosecute, so is this a priority for you?"
You're apparently reading from the Stranger. You're talking about relatively small numbers. We do between a hundred and 200 cases a year. Whether we prosecute depends on the report that's in front of us; whether or not it's a case. Most of our marijuana cases are cases that come in when we've got another crime, so someone gets in a bar fight and they have marijuana in their pocket. That's pretty much all we do. So we have a city of 600,000 people, a region that has about two hundred visitors—two hundred—two million visitors on any given day, and we do about 200 marijuana cases? To suggest that we're prioritizing? It's gonna go up and down based on what cases come through the door. But it's not a huge priority, and the idea that we're using a lot of jail beds on marijuana cases is absurd. I mean, I— I would challenge Pete to—to come up with a real number on the average daily population of jail. We don't prosecute low-level drug offenses. We have a couple programs we handle. Marijuana is one of them. Couple hundred cases out of 15,000 a year.
To Carr's first point on what people read in Stranger. We reported that Carr "prosecuted a higher percentage of pot cases referred to his office." This is true. You can see for yourself in this chart published by the Marijuana Policy Review Panel, a board appointed by the city council to with gauge the implementation of I-75:
The data, provided by Carr's office, show that he prosecuted 55-67 percent of all the pot possession cases sent to his office before the measure passed. But he prosecuted 69 to 84 percent of those cases after the law went into effect. In his defense, he didn't prosecute a higher number (just a larger percentage).
Second, Carr says, "We don't prosecute low-level drug offenses." Sorry, what? There is no lesser drug offense under state law than marijuana possession. It's the only drug offense (along with possession of paraphernalia) that is a misdemeanor. Everything else—possession or sales of any hard drug—is a felony. So every drug offense that Carr prosecutes is a "low-level drug offense," and he's prosecuted hundreds of them.
Last, Carr argues that marijuana is a small slice of the pie compared to all the cases handled by his office. But it doesn't really matter how small the number of pot cases is compared to every other thing that happens. If we were talking about, say, armed robbery or murder, and the numbers doubled, Carr wouldn't say that it doesn't matter because the number of armed robberies and murders are so small compared to the number of cases overall. Likewise, when voters passed I-75, they were concerned about how the city would handle marijuana cases, and here's what happened: Seattle Police arrested fewer of the pot smokers in their preview while Carr prosecuted more of the cases in his.
Holmes seems to get where the voters are coming from:
I think one of the problems we face, the reason we're faced with a new jail is that we've been prosecuting low-level drug offenses, and, uh, in fact I believe that we should decriminalize marijuana. There was a bill that was introduced into the legislature, uh, in the past session that failed. Mr. Carr has been opposed to this in the past. I think this is one of the clear differences between us.