SEATTLE — When Washington state voters overwhelmingly legalized the recreational use of marijuana on Nov. 6, Seattle police knew they'd be getting a lot of questions.
And while many details surrounding the state's Dec. 6 decriminalization of pot remain, the department didn't shy away from answering what questions it could about Initiative 502, posting a funny, question-and-answer blog that has become a big web hit — having been viewed more than 120,000 times and shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook since it was posted Friday.
The result was "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle," by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, a former journalist who wrote for The Stranger, a weekly alternative newspaper. He was hired by the police department earlier this year.
Here, he and Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a police spokesman, explain the thinking behind the blog, which included some of these memorable passages:
Q: SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back? A: No.
"I just try to write posts I'd want to read," Spangenthal-Lee said, via email. "I knew we were probably going to be inundated with questions about 502, so I figured I'd try to get answers to the kinds of questions Seattle residents (and reporters) might ask, and put them out there."
Q: What happens if I get pulled over and I'm sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I've got in my trunk? A: Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle.
Whitcomb noted that pot cases have not been a priority in Seattle for some time. "This is a city where marijuana possession has been the lowest (enforcement) priority. There's a built-in expectation that Seattle is going to have something to say about it," said Whitcomb, referring to the fact that voters in this liberal city directed police nearly a decade ago to treat adult pot use as its lowest enforcement priority.
Q: December 6th seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then? A: Hold your breath. Your case will be processed under current state law. However, there is already a city ordinance making marijuana enforcement the lowest law enforcement priority.
Whitcomb said officials wanted people to realize that cops have a sense of humor, too. "I think this is an example of us really hitting the appropriate tone for our audience," he said. He even came up with one of the most humorous parts of the blog, a clip from the film trilogy "Lord of the Rings," showing Bilbo and the wizard Gandalf smoking what Bilbo calls "the finest weed."
I-502 passed with 55 percent of the vote. Since then, prosecutors in the largest counties in the state have dropped cases involved misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
"There's still more questions because it's so new," said Whitcomb, noting that "the state says it's legal, the federal law says it's not."
And that looming specter of federal enforcement is noted on the blog post:
"...You probably shouldn't bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property)," Seattle police warn.