Thursday, December 12, 2013

Marijuana public consumption bills sent to City Council

Bills about pubic consumption of marijuana and public smoking were discussed during yesterday's City Council Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee meeting.

Discussion about Council Bill 117989 regarding public consumption begins at around 57:00 and Council Bill 117998 regarding public smoking begins at around 74:00.

To strengthen the public consumption bill so that it supports public health goals for helping youth access substance abuse-related services they may need, two items should be changed.

1. The bill should specify how the law will be enforced among minors.  While the first “Whereas” in the bill states that Initiative 502 legalized adult possession, the ordinance does not specifically distinguish between the enforcement of marijuana laws among adults (21 and older) from enforcement among minors (20 and younger).  

For example:

~ The bill states, “A person who violates this section is guilty of a class 3 civil infraction under RCW Chapter 7.80.”  The word “person” should be replaced with “adults 21 years old and older” since the law is different for minors.  Minors are to be referred to the King County Juvenile Diversion program and are not to be charged with a civil infraction.  The diversion program can help at-risk teenagers link with drug education or treatment services that may be needed.  

~ The bill  states that SPD intends to “provide a first warning for persons violating the provisions”.  Since the police play such an important public health role when it comes to linking teenagers to the substance abuse services they may need, warnings should be given to adults who are 21 years old and above but minors under the age of 21 should be referred to the King County Juvenile Diversion Program. 

Any City ordinance dealing with the enforcement of minors in possession of alcohol should be updated to include marijuana.  To reduce community risk factors for underage use and to link at-risk youth with services they may need, these laws should be enforced and the policy of referring youth to the diversion program should be followed.  

2. Define public use:  Council Bill 117989 states, “It is unlawful to open a package containing or consume marijuana, usable marijuana or a marijuana-infused product in view of the general public.”  Though the fiscal note attached to this ordinance says that the intent is to bring marijuana laws in line with alcohol laws, the language is different than alcohol-related language that states that public use of alcohol is illegal.  The ordinance should define what is meant by “in view of the general public” so that it is clear to citizens what will be enforced and what won’t be enforced when it comes to marijuana use outside of personal residences.  

Adult behavior impacts youth behavior.  All children, even teenagers, look to adults to determine how they should act.  One of the reasons tobacco smoking rates are down among youth is because they are not exposed to adults smoking tobacco as much as they were prior to the many smoke-free policies adopted throughout our communities.  The same holds true for alcohol and other drugs – the more teenagers see use as a normal part of adult life, including public life, the more likely they are to use the substances.  

Both bills were referred to the full Council.

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