This past summer, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes testified before the Seattle City Council, pressing them approve a new citation for smoking marijuana in public. The fine should be $50, plus additional penalties that brought the charge to $103, he said. Despite resistance from the police department, which was content issuing verbal warnings, the bill that Holmes submitted to council members said nothing about verbal warnings, and it raised concerns among legal experts that police would issue pot tickets—like pot arrests used to be—disproportionately to people of color.
Holmes isn't an anti-pot zealot. He was a co-sponsor of the state legalization initiative that passed last fall, and he insisted the citation was necessary to make city rules match new state rules that make public pot consumption an infraction. However, it was odd logic: Seattle officers could already issue pot tickets (under state law) without a new city law. But Holmes said he wanted the city to collect revenue—an admission that Holmes seemingly wanted officers to hand out enough tickets to amount to a sizable chunk of new city income. Let's be clear: That would be a lot of pot tickets.
But the council appears to be handing Holmes a firm rebuke.
Council Member Nick Licata introduced a bill yesterday that would halve the fine and includes several provisions intended to stymie discriminatory or overzealous policing. Licata explains, "We wanted something that was, to be honest, more workable and acceptable to the public." Licata says there were a "ripple" of e-mails after The Stranger reported problems with Holmes's bill; he says the new provisions are intended to address "legitimate concerns about disparate impacts on ethnic minorities."
The council's bill made the following changes to Holmes's bill:
- Reduces the penalty to match Seattle's fine for public consumption of alcohol. Whereas Holmes's ticket was $50 plus assessments (which would roughly double the ticket), Licata's bill reduces it to $27 plus assessments (or $55, total).
- Says that police intend to provide a first warning before issuing a ticket.
- Restates that marijuana offenses are the city's lowest law-enforcement priority.
- Requires the Seattle Police Department to monitor enforcement by tracking the race, age, and gender of suspects, plus the location the ticket was issued. When possible, police must state the reason for stopping a suspect. Citing the need to avoid adverse racial impacts, the bill says police also must provide an analysis of those data to the council biannually.
"It is not good to pass laws that has people ignore or are upset about," Licata says of the changes.
For his part, Holmes isn't fighting the overhaul. “I don’t view this as a significant change and still support the ordinance," Holmes says. "The most important thing is that the City Council give SPD and the public clear guidance that using marijuana in public is illegal and punishable by a civil fine. This is what we voted for in I-502, and this is what should be enforced.”
Licata's bill will be considered by the Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee on December 11. A companion bill would make city rules conform with the state's indoor smoking ban by creating a municipal citation, clarifying where smoking is prohibited, and removing language that refers to tobacco so smoking rules also apply to smoking pot.