Today, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes encouraged the city council's Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee to pass a bill that would create a city ticket for smoking pot in public—an act that is already against state law, which SPD can already enforce.
"I think it's very important that I, as an elected official, stand behind the police department and give them some direction," Holmes told council members, explaining why there should be a city ticket in addition to the citation possible under state law. "We recognize that the voters also passed [I-502] for regulation," he said. "In order for 502 to work, people have to play by the rules." Opponents of the city ticket have pointed out that historically, police enforce drug laws disproportionately against people of color; so far, SPD hasn't been issuing citations at all under state law, but that would likely change with a city citation. Council Member Nick Licata says he'll make sure there's a component of whatever ordinance they end up voting on that "requires collection of data on the tickets given out by SPD... to make sure there's not any discriminatory element."
Holmes also mentioned something that hasn't come up much in the debate over this ticket so far: "If SPD writes and enforces tickets under RCW [state law], the City of Seattle doesn’t get any of those funds." So is this really all about money? I snagged him after the meeting to ask.
Money is "a factor," he said, but "not the main factor for me." Mainly, strict enforcement of I-502 is "about preserving the victory" (Holmes was a sponsor of the initiative). "If the Feds don't see enforcement going on, it's going to give then an excuse to come in and undo 502." (In the past, Holmes has made essentially the opposite claim, at least when it comes to possession, saying that part of the state law is "simply not preemptable".) It's also about supporting the police force, he says, during a time when they "feel like they're under a microscope on a good day."
SPD spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, who also attended the meeting, echoed Holmes. "It's very beneficial for us to have clear direction from our elected officials," he said. At the same time, he says "we believe the city council will incorporate the spirit of I-75 into this"—that's the initiative requiring most pot enforcement to be the lowest police priority. "This isn't a push to enforcement." He told council that Police Chief Jim Pugel has been clear that when it comes to enforcement, "our number-one goal is to educate the public," mainly by using verbal warnings if someone's smoking out in the open. "We feel that having a uniformed police officer... tell them to stop the behavior will get compliance." And as for racially disparate enforcement? He tells me they've already reached out to the UW, so SPD can turn over data on ticketing to people who can "examine whether or not any tickets that are issued are written in a way that is disproportionate."