A House Committee on Thursday approved a technical change to the state’s new law legalizing marijuana that supporters say is necessary to prosecute illegal growers and sellers.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told the House Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight that the change is needed to prosecute cases.
“We still need to hold accountable those who sell marijuana to minors and those who act outside of the law. There is nobody in the state crime lab today who can come and testify in a court of law that material meets the definition of marijuana under state law,” Satterberg said.
At issue is the legal definition of “THC concentration” in Initiative 502, which is meant to distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp. The new law defines marijuana as having more than 0.3 percent of delta-9 THC, the content that creates the psychoactive effects of pot. But scientists with the state crime lab said that definition is too narrow and they don’t have the tools to isolate delta-9 THC from the total THC content.
The measure would change the law to define marijuana by the total THC content. When marijuana is burned or cooked into food, THC acid turns into delta-9 THC and the pot becomes fully potent. The worry is when someone is in violation of the new marijuana laws, prosecutors won’t be able to prove in court that the plants seized meet the new definition.
Officials with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab testified that the state would need to buy new expensive machinery and tests would take longer to complete if the definition remains unchanged.
“That is possible, but it is of considerable expense,” said Vancouver crime lab manager Ingrid Deermore.
The committee passed the measure by a 6-3 vote. Rep. Cary Condotta (R- East Wenatchee) said he needed more information before he could support a change to the initiative, which will require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature.
“I am getting conflicting reports here. The rest of the world operates in a certain manner. We are moving to that. We are moving to an industrial hemp nation, a legalized marijuana nation and the rest of the world is way ahead of us on that. What there definition of the standards are should work for us. I worried we are becoming an outlier possibly,” Condotta said.