In the final installment of our interview with City Attorney Tom Carr and challenger Pete Holmes, the Stranger Election Control Board asks Carr about his ongoing pot prosecution and asks Holmes what he would do instead:
In the years after I-75 passed, SPD decreased the number of marijuana possession arrests, but the percentage of those cases prosecuted by your office, those increased.
CARR: Well, the problem is that you’re dealing with such a small base and so when you go to a percentage of referrals filed with an ever-dwindling base—I instruct my prosecutors in the marijuana cases to not do anything special above and beyond. They still apply our normal filing standard, which is if a reasonable jury would find, looking at all the evidence, would be justified in finding the defendant guilty, they should charge the case.
There were a number of marijuana possession-only cases in all of those years. Granted, it’s not a huge priority for the city, but we had passed an initiative to make it the lowest law enforcement priority. In addition, I haven’t looked at 2009, but on the years examined by the marijuana policy review panel, there were marijuana-only arrests in which the defendant was booked into jail. And so my question is, how does your practice in seeking to charge these individuals, especially marijuana-only, and the rising rate of prosecutions, carry forward the spirit of the initiative?
CARR: I believe that it does, and, you know, you and I have been over this. The initiative was based on a premise that doesn’t exist, that we somehow rank priorities of cases, and discard—I can’t discard them at random.
You can prioritize domestic violence cases.
CARR: We have special resources devoted to domestic violence cases, that’s right. And marijuana is below that. So it is a lower priority than domestic violence, I devote no special resources to it.
CARR: This year, so far, through June it was 64 cases—54 cases that we filed. And I hope to heck I don’t have the number wrong. They’re on my website. On the city’s website you can find the marijuana reports, so, they’re there. You can check, but I believe it was 54. And in each one of those 54 cases they were booked for something else. So 54 marijuana cases in six months is not stringent enforcement of marijuana.
So you think that’s right, that’s a good amount.
CARR: Well yeah, my principle goal in dealing with drugs in Seattle is dealing with the side effects of open air drug markets. So when you have an open air drug market you have thefts, you have assaults, you have prostitution, you have strong-arm robberies, you have burglaries. And those affect the communities where they occur. So my principal concern is open-air drug markets. Marijuana generally is not sold in an open-air drug markets. So the police enforcement—it’s usually sold hand-to-hand by people who know each other, not on the streets. So you don’t have those attendant effects that come with my job. Remember, I don’t have drug jurisdiction, but I have jurisdiction over the crimes that surround those markets. And so when we’re looking at the 23rd Avenue core, Rainier Valley, Georgetown, Aurora, Belltown, Pioneer Square, those communities are affected by those other crimes. And those are the things I enforce against. That—so, in terms of marijuana, we would have to go out of our way to do great marijuana, to do extensive marijuana enforcement. And you know, my understanding of the history of Initiative 75, is that New York City decided to control disorder by going after marijuana, and there was a nationwide revolt against it. So New York City had this huge increase in marijuana charges in the early to mid-nineties. And there was a nationwide objection, and Initiative 75 came out of that. To make sure that—but Seattle never did that. And I don’t see a reason for us to do that, and that’s not my philosophy. And so when you say we disagree, in terms of the way I do things? I don’t think so. But it makes better press if it seems like we do, and so I think that’s what happens.
The issue is that it’s the lowest law enforcement priority, and there are other priorities.
CARR: Yeah, it is the lowest priority, it gets no special treatment whatsoever. So over the last, the twelve months between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 I think we did 104 cases. And I think in that period, you’re right. I think four people were booked for marijuana possession. That’s a police officer’s decision, not mine. And so, but the significance of all those other cases? The hundred other cases where they weren’t booked? It means there’s something else going on. And so, when you say the marijuana-only cases—which was, when we were on the panel, it was looking at marijuana-only cases and the percentage of marijuana-only cases—it means that those hundred cases were other than marijuana-only cases because it involved some other reason for the booking. And so, the marijuana-only cases that we look at are only the Seattle ones. There can be a non-Seattle reason for a booking, is what I’m getting at, which is something that I’ve been looking at lately.
Pete, how you would handle these cases?
HOLMES: Whether standing alone or in conjunction with other charges, I will not charge another simple marijuana possession case. Period.
Part one (on the stolen can of tuna Carr called an "urban myth") is here, part two (on other the times Carr hasn't told the truth) is here, part three (on Holmes's qualifications for the job) is here, part four (on Carr’s prosecution of bar and nightlife employees) is here.