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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

September 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM

King County sheriff promises crackdown on public, underage pot smoking

King County Sheriff John Urquhart, top cop on pot.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart, top cop on pot.

WASHINGTON — King County Sheriff John Urquhart said his deputies will vigorously enforce Washington’s new marijuana law, especially against underage pot smokers.

Urquhart is testifying today before the Senate Judiciary Committee on how to reconcile the state’s legalization of pot and the still-on-the-books federal prohibition.

In an interview before the hearing, Urquhart said he sees little conflict between state and federal laws except for one: lack of legal banking services for marijuana vendors and growers. Urquhart said keeping recreational pot a cash-only business will make it vulnerable to robberies, wage fraud and other crimes that afflict the state’s legal medical marijuana industry.

Other than that, Urquhart said, his 700 deputies should be able to carry out the Justice Department’s guidelines under which the federal government gave tacit blessing to Washington and Colorado’s new recreational weed laws.

That among other things means sheriff deputies will show no tolerance for anyone under 21 caught with marijuana. They also will confiscate pot from adults who smoke it in public, though Urquhart said he would allow some discretion to skip the $103 fine for those caught far from crowds.

“We’re on the same page here” with federal regulators, Urquhart said. Legal recreational pot “is going to reduce law-enforcement workload significantly.”

Urquhart, a narcotics detective for 12 years, strongly backed last year’s Initiative 502 to legalize pot. He said he hopes the new industry remains mainly a mom-and-pop operation. Such small growers and vendors, he said, would have less clout than big marijuana operations to push to allow public advertisement for pot, which he opposes.

“The war on drugs has failed,” he said. “It’s time to try something new.”

Comments | More in U.S. Senate | Topics: John Urquhart, marijuana


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