As state agencies figure out the specifics of how marijuana will be supplied, taxed and sold throughout Washington, local law enforcement officials remain determined to pursue individuals who grow pot illegally and commit crimes associated with it.
Until the state sets up a system of legally selling marijuana, marijuana consumers are in an odd predicament: They can legally possess a small amount of weed, but they can’t buy it legally.
Marijuana, legal or not, still brings the kind of trouble as it did before, said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield.
“My personal opinion is that it is still wrong,” he said. “But I will enforce the laws that currently exist.”
Marijuana, just like other drugs and alcohol, does a lot of harm to individuals and the community as a whole, the sheriff said. Marijuana legalization did not change that.
“Drugs and alcohol and substance abuse go right along with everything else happening in our community that is bad,” Mansfield said.
Police have made it clear that while they will not make arrests for small personal amounts of marijuana, they will still enforce the laws regarding the illegal growing of the plant.
Last month, Centralia police busted a suspected marijuana grow operation on the outskirts of the city. The bust resulted in the seizure of 90 marijuana plants, firearms and about $4,000. The two Centralia brothers accused of running the grow operation, Zeshawn Hasnani, 27, and Sohail Hasnani, 24, allegedly told police that they made armed deliveries to medical marijuana dispensaries in exchange for “donations” of several thousand dollars, according to court documents.
Both men are charged as co-defendants and pleaded not guilty to charges of maintaining a building for keeping a controlled substance, manufacturing a controlled substance, possession, possession with intent to deliver and money laundering. They were also charged with firearm enhancements as well as special allegations of committing drug crimes within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. The brothers are both held at the Lewis County Jail on $250,000 bail. Their trials are set for mid-May.
The grow operation is not the only major marijuana-related crime in Lewis County since its decriminalization in December. Centralia police also say an illegal marijuana sale was the root of a robbery turned gunfight in mid-December.
The incident started when a 28-year-old Centralia man, identified as Joshua Z. Smith in court documents, posted an advertisement on Craigslist that indicated he had marijuana to sell to qualifying medical marijuana patients, according to the Centralia Police Department. He listed the price at $125 an ounce.
Two Tacoma men, Yahdriel E. Jones, 18, and Howard E. Ross, 19, contacted Smith about a possible sale. When the three men met, either Ross or Jones pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and demanded Smith hand over the marijuana.
Smith got out of the car and then allegedly pulled out his own handgun and fired it at the vehicle, according to Centralia police. Jones and Ross were later arrested in Lacey and charged with first-degree robbery, with a special firearm enhancement. Ross, who has two felony prior convictions of first-degree robbery, is being held in the Lewis County Jail on $500,000 bail. Jones is also being held in the Lewis County Jail on $300,000 bail. Both have a trial date for early May.
Smith may also face criminal charges, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Another fear law enforcement officials had with the passage of Initiative 502, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, was the increase in individuals who may choose to consume marijuana and then drive. So far on a local level, however, that fear appears to have been unfounded.
Since the initiative took effect on Dec. 6, police from the sheriff’s office as well as the Chehalis Police Department have not made any driving under the influence of marijuana arrests. The Centralia Police Department has made two arrests for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.