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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.

Help Us With Pot Tickets, Seattle Police Chief Says

Seattle's proposed ban would apply to people lighting up tobacco products. Washington state law prohibits marijuana smoking in public places.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Seattle police may ticket you if you consume marijuana in public. At issue though is who should be receiving tickets.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole says the police department could use help from city lawmakers about how the city should handle tickets for public marijuana use.

It's against state law to consume marijuana in public. And current policy requires officers to respond to complaints when people break that law.

But O'Toole says that policy has led to a disproportionate amount of tickets given to men and black people.

"I look for some direction, some policy direction from the council,” she says, “because I don't want to sit here every six months and try to defend a handful of tickets that are written by officers who are responding to our directions and focus on areas that people are complaining about."

O'Toole says officers are focusing on drug dealers and that crackdown is making a difference on the black market.

"If the council feels that it makes no sense to write these tickets, I think we've resolved many of the issues downtown and Westlake and elsewhere with good enforcement," she says.

People who receive tickets for using marijuana in public are subject to a $27 fine. O'Toole says most of those tickets have gone unpaid.

City Councilman Tom Rasmussen says the council should further discuss next steps and then get back to the police department.

Year started with KUOW: 1998.