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Prosecuting Attorney's Office

Daniel T. Satterberg

King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office
King County Courthouse, Room W554
516 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104-2362
(206) 296-9000


Dec. 27, 2012

Marijuana Legalization Law

Something You Didn’t Know About I-502

While national and international attention has turned to Washington's new marijuana legalization law, there is one little-known section of the law that may extend the practical scope of this groundbreaking law even wider.  The legal definition of "cannabis" is changed under the initiative to require scientific proof in court that the plant matter contains more than .3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.  That was done presumably to distinguish marijuana the drug from hemp fabrics made from a similar plant.  Most marijuana sold for medicinal or recreational use contains THC at levels beyond 10 percent, well over the .3 percent level now used to define the drug.
Nevertheless, the new definition requires a new quantitative analysis that can only be done by a forensic laboratory. Previously, the law required simply a showing that the material contained some amount of THC which could be measured by a trained police officer using an inexpensive chemical testing kit.  The new law requires a quantitative analysis that can only be done by the State Crime Lab on machinery that costs more than $100,000.

"Now that only the state crime lab can analyze marijuana, police and prosecutors must be very careful not to overwhelm the crime lab, which is also our primary source for DNA and other forensic testing necessary to prove serious violent crimes," said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.  “It is still a crime to grow, sell, or have more than an ounce of marijuana, and for people under 21, to possess it,” he said, “but in order to prove these cases in court, we will need a full scientific workup on the THC level.”  Satterberg added, “The impact on the state crime lab is a real concern to prosecutors, and one that was not discussed during the campaign.”

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