Going to jail? Police won't keep your legal pot

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by ALLEN SCHAUFFLER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 6:43 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 28 at 7:29 PM

It may be a sort of green revolution in Washington but there are a lot of gray areas, large and small in state's new marijuana law. One of these uncertain areas is in jail.

What happens to your completely legal-to-own-and-carry pot if you get arrested and taken to jail for another crime? The simple answer is, don’t expect to get it back.

A survey of about half of Washington’s counties shows that sheriff’s departments and jails do not plan to store and return pot for people who are arrested and incarcerated.

Mitch Barker runs the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. He says it boils down for federal law and the possible impact on federal funding for local law enforcement agencies.

“We’re asking our employees, police officers, jailers, to break federal law by ‘distributing’ it back to the person who had it,” Barker said.

A few of the counties in our survey are still reviewing their policy on the issue but the rest say the advice of their legal counsel is to stay away from taking in and handing out legal amounts of legally obtained and carried marijuana and cannabis products.

“It could threaten federal funding,” said Barker. “That’s a theory and until we know otherwise that’s a risk the people running those facilities have to decide whether they’re willing to run.”

It’s not a popular policy at the Hempfest headquarters in Seattle. At the self-proclaimed “Hempiest Place on Earth,” they’re expecting change.

“We're going to have to evaluate the systems that have existed for decades,” said Director of Operations Sharon Whitson. “It is going to take some mindshift for the police departments to realize that cannabis is legal and just like anything else in your possession right now.”

But until there is some clarity and direction provided by the federal government, local jails and law enforcers will likely avoid the “mindshift” and carry on with what they know.

Sergeant Ray Brady with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department describes what will happen to “legal” pot that belongs to new inmates in blunt terms: “We would log that into evidence.. and then evidence (personnel) would dispose of it.”

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