King County’s top prosecutor and Seattle’s police chief clash over how to crack down on illegal pot-delivery services, long tolerated by local officials. The chief wants felony charges. The prosecuting attorney says they’re unwarranted.
King County’s top prosecutor and Seattle’s police chief are at odds over how to crack down on illegal pot-delivery services.
Chief Kathleen O’Toole wants felony charges against delivery suspects snared in recent stings. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg has declined, saying he wasn’t consulted and the city’s stings amounted to arresting low-level couriers “at the very end of the supply line.”
The disagreement is laid out in letters from Satterberg and O’Toole in recent weeks. It highlights the challenges presented by illegal delivery services, which local officials have tolerated for years and legal Seattle pot retailers have called major competition. Lacking brick-and-mortar locations, the services — particularly their leaders — can be hard to track and prosecute.
And that gets to the meat of Satterberg’s objection to prosecuting couriers recently arrested by Seattle police.
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According to Satterberg, the SPD contacted advertised delivery services in six cases. State law doesn’t allow pot delivery and the services aren’t licensed by the state or city, making them illegal.
In each case, SPD ordered marijuana delivered to a motel room. Packages valued between $100 and $260 were purchased from delivery people, who were then arrested. The cases were referred to Satterberg’s office for felony prosecution.
Satterberg said he wasn’t aware of the city’s new strategy. More important, he said, the stings targeted the “lowest-level employees.” He wrote in an April 12 letter that felony charges were “unwarranted, disproportionate to the harm caused, and would have little or no impact on the larger delivery business in Washington.”
He encouraged City Attorney Pete Holmes to use information gathered in the stings to learn more about the delivery services and to shut them down through noncriminal means.
Satterberg said his prosecutors, working with Sheriff John Urquhart, used civil remedies to shut down 15 unlicensed sellers of medical marijuana in White Center and Skyway. Although the 15 storefronts were selling “hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana,” they were pressured to close because Satterberg had threatened to sue them. No arrests were made and no criminal charges filed, but all the storefronts closed, he said.
His office continues to prosecute large-scale unlicensed operations, he said, where hundreds of plants are being grown, undermining the state’s legal-pot law.
In her reply, a week later, O’Toole said she reviewed evidence and suspects were more than the lowest-level employees in four cases.
One suspect possessed 2 pounds of pot, she said, and one carried Oxycodone, which supported anecdotal reports that pot-delivery services may be delivering other drugs. Two of the suspects also carried cellphones with numbers that matched those in delivery ads. And one of those admitted to growing the pot he sold with his medical authorization, making him an owner-operator, O’Toole said.
None of the suspects had verified the age of the undercover buyers or asked if they were authorized to use medical marijuana, she said.
The only way to identify a service owner, she said, is through the evidence gathered, interviews with suspects, or cooperation by a suspect willing to identify suppliers.
“Without a credible threat of prosecution,” she wrote, “it is unlikely that suspects will cooperate with law enforcement.”
More than regulations are needed, the chief concluded, to combat the delivery services. “We need to send a message that black market marijuana sales will not be tolerated and are, as you acknowledged, a felony,” she wrote Satterberg.
The chief said she spoke with Satterberg late last week, and “We have decided to organize a meeting to discuss illegal cannabis delivery services and how best to proceed with enforcement.”