By GENE JOHNSON
SEATTLE — Prosecutors and crime lab scientists say a little-noticed provision in Washington’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana has jeopardized their ability to go after any pot crimes at all, and they’re calling for an immediate fix in the Legislature.
The group is suggesting a change in the legal definition of marijuana, and they have the support of the Seattle lawyer who drafted the initiative.
The problem stems from a part of the law meant to distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp, which is grown for its fiber. The law defines marijuana as having more than 0.3 percent of a certain intoxicating compound, called delta-9 THC.
Scientists with the state crime lab say that often, even potent marijuana can have less than 0.3 percent. It’s only when heated or burned that another compound, THC acid, turns into delta-9 THC and the pot achieves its full potency.
“When you smoke it, it would be very potent, but before that, it would be considered hemp under the law,” said Erik Nielson, standards and accountability manager for the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab’s Forensic Lab Services Bureau.
That means that if people get caught with more than an ounce of marijuana – the amount adults are allowed to have under the law – or if police bust illicit grow operations, prosecutors might not be able to prove the plants or material seized meets the definition of marijuana.