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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Hempfest Backlash: Seattle Police Spokesman Subject Of Discrimination Complaint

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NPR Photo/Martin Kaste
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The SPD Doritos giveaway at last year's Hempfest was a viral hit, but it is now the subject of a complaint.

The Seattle Police Department made national headlines when officers gave away bags of Doritos at last year’s Hempfest. But some police officers were not supportive of the department’s lighthearted approach to marijuana users.

Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, the spokesman for the Seattle Police Department, organized the Doritos giveaway last August. It was part of the department’s strategy change after recreational marijuana became legal under state Initiative 502.

The snacks were paid for by the Seattle Police Foundation, and bore stickers with reminders like “don’t drive while high.” Backers of Hempfest, a festival that supports marijuana legalization, complained that police had stolen their spotlight.

But sources close to the Seattle Police Department said a discrimination complaint, currently under investigation, has been filed by an officer against Whitcomb. It alleges that Whitcomb created a hostile work environment after the officer declined to be part of the Doritos giveaway. The complaint said taking part in that event would have violated the officer’s political ideology.

A spokesman for the city's Office for Civil Rights said Seattle is one of the few cities that prohibit discrimination on the basis of political beliefs in addition to race, age and other protected groups. 

Whitcomb said he couldn’t comment on the investigation. His desk has been moved for the time being to the city’s emergency operations center in downtown Seattle. SPD also declined comment. 

Year started with KUOW: 2005