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Renton City Council considering how to move forward with marijuana legalization

Renton City Council members will get briefed Monday afternoon by Police Chief Kevin Milosevich about implementing the state's marijuana initiative.

Milosevich will review the answers that the Association of Washington Cities has on some of the basic questions about how the laws around marijuana will work.

The meeting of the council's Public Safety Committee is at 5 p.m. at Renton City Hall.

"There's a lot of grey areas," said Milosevich in a phone interview Monday morning.

Currently in Renton, the city has not adopted an ordinance that treats marijuana as an infraction for using it in public. However, people can be cited into district court until an ordinance is adopted, he said.

"The $64,000 question," he said is when will the federal government decide how to handle Washington state's decriminalization of marijuana.

Although possessing marijuana became legal in the state on Dec. 6, it still remains a crime under federal law. It is still illegal to obtain recreational marijuana in Washington until the Liquor Control Board decides how to establish the procedures and criteria necessary to implement the initiative. The board has until Dec. 1 to make those decisions.

People can possess it, but they can't legally buy it, Milosevich said.

This does not have anything to do with current laws on medical marijuana, he said.

"Mirror it with alcohol," Milosevich said of the potential new laws surrounding marijuana possession.

He went on to explain that people can't smoke in public. So if a person is sitting in their car at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park and they light up, they would get an infraction because that's public. If a person were to use the drug in their car in a back alley side street, that may not be public, he said.

This is where the grey areas come into play.

In terms of other laws such as driving under the influence of marijuana, there is an under-21-zero tolerance. Being caught on the wrong side of the law means driving while impaired by the drug and having a concentration level above 0.0 of THC, the active component of marijuana.

Milosevich isn't sure what that particular level establishes, but he said opponents of the initiative felt the level was too low.

"The infraction of public use has to occur in the officer's presence," he said. "This has nothing to do with DUI. If the officer stops a vehicle, and through his or her observations and investigations believe the subject is under the influence, the subject could be arrested. If the officer observes an odor of marijuana, marijuana debris in the subjects mouth or on person, poor field sobriety tests, bloodshot eyes, eyelid tremors etc.... any combination could lead an officer to arrest a subject for DUI."

Problems with marijuana will become more of an issue during the summer when apartment residents light up and disturb their neighbors with the odor of the drug, Milosevich said. He also foresees public use of marijuana in parks this summer being a problem.

Council member Don Persson is concerned about implementation of the initiative because it competes with federal law. He said he doesn't really have a strong opinion on the issue, but it raises concerns.

"It kind of puts – in my opinion – it puts law enforcement in the middle of two conflicting laws," Persson said.

He is the current head of Renton's Public Safety Commission and before being elected to council spent 33 years with the Renton Police Department, rising to deputy police chief.

Persson is curious to know what the federal government's response will be to the issue. As he understands it, the state attorney general is not going to take on the issue, but the federal government could come down on Washington and other states that have legalized marijuana.

"I'm not overly concerned about it, but it's something that I would rather not see," Persson said.

However the new initiative is handled, Persson was confident city departments would carry out the law of the land.

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