Monday, March 8, 2010

Bainbridge Has No Misdemeanor Marijuana Law ... What to Do?

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND â€" Those arrested on Bainbridge Island for small
amounts of marijuana possession aren’t prosecuted under any law
dealing with pot.

“We can arrest someone for having drug paraphernalia,â€
said Scott Weiss, an island officer, “But not for the

Bainbridge Island’s municipal code currently does not have a
statute for marijuana at the misdemeanor level â€" under 40 grams.
That’s prompting a push by police, with help from prosecutors, to
get the city council to take action.

“It’s a simple fix,†said Weiss, an officer who
specializes in drug cases. “But right now on Bainbridge you
can’t be charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession.â€

Nonetheless, Claire Bradley, Kitsap County’s chief deputy
prosecutor who oversees both the county’s district court and
Bainbridge Island’s municipal court, said marijuana cases
forwarded to her office from Bainbridge police are charged criminally
one way or another.

The prosecutor’s office typically takes those cases and charges
them with the statute Bainbridge Island does have â€" possession of
drug paraphernalia. Paraphernalia, as a statute, can be liberally
applied in such cases.

“Even if they have marijuana in their pocket, then the pocket
becomes the paraphernalia,†she said.

Bradley said the laws for misdemeanor marijuana possession and drug
paraphernalia carry tantamount sentences: up to 90 days in jail.

Still, police would like to see a more accurate and honest description
of the person’s criminal conduct.

“Our officers are looking forward to the day this becomes
implemented as a city municipal code,†said Bainbridge Island
Police Lt. Sue Shultz.

Weiss said a conviction for drug paraphernalia can also be misleading
for an officer conducting a criminal history check. A conviction for
marijuana under 40 grams is clear, he said, while one for possession of
drug paraphernalia could mean the suspect has dabbled in any narcotic.

“It’s not representative of the law that they
broke,†he said.

The city once had a misdemeanor marijuana statute, but it’s
likely that a few years ago, when the state updated its own codes,
Bainbridge’s marijuana statute wasn’t updated with it.

Councilman and current mayor Bob Scales said that while Bainbridge might
not have a misdemeanor marijuana statute, the state does, and
prosecutors could charge such cases in Kitsap County’s district
court in Port Orchard, he said.

But the county’s district court is almost exclusively reserved
for cases that occur in unincorporated areas of the county. Bradley said
it’s “extremely rare†that a Bainbridge misdemeanor
marijuana case would get filed there.

Councilwoman Hilary Franz said that a presentation by Bainbridge Police
Chief Jon Fehlman and City Attorney Paul McMurray on March 3 left the
council wanting data about how many cases are actually filed in the
county’s district court.

The council is expecting to hear back from them later in the month with
an answer, and it will decide how to proceed from there.

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