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What Are They Smoking In Seattle? Check Out Police Dept.'s Guide To Pot Use

Nov 15, 2012
Originally published on November 16, 2012 12:11 pm

We love when police departments put some personality and pizzazz into their public statements.

So the Seattle Police Department's blog post headlined "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle," definitely got our attention.

Written to help explain what happens now that Washington State voters have approved Initiative 502, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana (effective on Dec. 6), the post has a bit of attitude. Some of the Q&As:

"Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?

"According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Please note that the initiative says it "is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana...in view of the general public," so there's that. Also, you probably shouldn't bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property).

"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?

"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. If officers have information that you're trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.

"SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?

"No."

There's also this note:

"This post has been updated since its initial publication to include more legalese and fewer references to narcotics dogs which, as it turns out, are still a confusing, complicated issue still under review."

The funniest part of the post, though, may be the video clip from Lord of the Rings that's embedded there. It's the scene where Bilbo and Gandalf lean back with their pipes and Bilbo declares that they're smoking "Old Toby. The finest weed in the South farthing."

According to The Associated Press, the post's author — Jonah Spangenthal-Lee — is "a former journalist who wrote for The Stranger, a weekly alternative newspaper," before being hired by the police department earlier this year.

"I just try to write posts I'd want to read," Spangenthal-Lee said to the AP, 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."

Some Two-Way readers may recall our earlier posts about the witty reports from the police department in Madison Wis.:

-- Guy Walks Into A Denny's, Cooks A Burger, Gets Arrested.

-- Wisconsin Police Arrest Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop.

Update at 2 p.m. ET. He's Just "Trying To Write To Our Readers":

Spangenthal-Lee just spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish in a conversation that's set to be on today's All Things Considered.

That question and curt "no" answer about whether you can get back pot seized before the law was passed seems to have been the most popular Q&A in the post, he said. Readers find it "pretty amusing," said Spangenthal-Lee.

As for the tone of the post and including the clip of Bilbo and Gandalf, Spangenthal-Lee said he was just "trying to write to our readers. ... We want the police department to be accessible. ... There's no reason it needs to be anything other than fun or informative."

Much more from their conversation will be on the show later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams All Things Considered. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. After voters in Washington State approved a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use, Seattle police knew there would be a lot of questions, like marija-what now? Well, actually, that came to be the title of their public information guide on what legalization will mean for citizens. "Marijwhatnow? A Guide To Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle" was written by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee.

He's a former writer for the alternative weekly The Stranger in Seattle and he's now a blogger for the Seattle police department. He wrote the guide. Welcome, Jonah.

JONAH SPANGENTHAL-LEE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So you've written this in a Q&A form and it seems like you had a pretty good time doing it. One of the questions was, for instance, can I smoke pot outside my home, like at a park, magic show or the Bite of Seattle, which I don't know what that is, but - so what's the answer?

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: Well, the answer there is it's much like alcohol. You can consume it in the privacy of your own home, but if you open a container of it up in public, that's a no-no, something that could earn you a citation.

CORNISH: Another one of these questions, what happens if I get pulled over and I'm sober, but an officer or canine buddy smells the ounce of super skunk I've got in my trunk? Jonah, how'd you come up with that one? I know that's not the legal term.

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: Well, that's just - it's something I figured people would want to know. You know, obviously, the DUI issue that's going to come up with this is going to be complicated. But I guess the short answer to that question is officers need probable cause to search a car and while most of the time the smell of pot alone won't be reason to search a vehicle, if officers think you're trafficking drugs in violation of the law, you know, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.

CORNISH: Is this the kind of question you've actually gotten from the public or from friends?

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: You know, I'd gotten questions about this from friends. You know, I was a reporter for years, so I had questions of my own about what this was going to mean for the department, so yeah, I just kind of - a mix of things I'd heard, questions I'd seen posted on, you know, Facebook or whatever, prior to the legislation passing.

CORNISH: What was one of the more popular questions?

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: People seem pretty fond of our response to whether or not, you know, marijuana seized prior to the passage of this initiative, whether than can be given back or requested. I mean, the answer at this point has been a flat no. People seem to think the kind of curt response to that is pretty amusing.

CORNISH: Now, your guide is very good and very funny, but this is still a pretty confusing legal situation. People in Washington State, as you write, can carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use, but growing it and selling it is illegal. I mean, so how would people get the marijuana they can now legally possess?

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: That's a great question and I think that that's still something that's being worked out. I'm not up on the latest 'cause that's at the state level, but yeah, I mean, I think it's less than a month till it becomes legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and I haven't heard much about what's going to happen after that.

CORNISH: Well, Jonah, thank you so much for speaking with me.

SPANGENTHAL-LEE: Yeah, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: That's Jonah Spangenthal-Lee. He wrote the Seattle police department's Q&A about the legalization of recreational marijuana use. It's called, "Marijwhatnow? A Guide To Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle." You can find the entire guide online by going to NPR's news blog "The Two-Way." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.