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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Concerns Raised About Lack Of Police Resources, Commitment To Combat Illegal Pot

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The stated goal of Washington’s new marijuana law is to stop treating adult pot use as a crime. But Washington’s pot consultant says this experiment in legalization will only work if the police aggressively target the black market. And he’s concerned that won’t happen.

The sponsors of Initiative 502 were clear. They said it was time for a “new approach” to marijuana in Washington. They wanted to allow adult pot use, free up law enforcement to focus on violent and property crimes and “take marijuana out of the hands of illegal drug organizations.”

But on that last point, the state’s official pot consultant Mark Kleiman says just because there’s a legal market doesn’t mean the black market will disappear overnight. “What’s missing is a decision at the state level to get state and local law enforcement engaged in driving people out of the illicit market into the licit market.”

The governor’s office counters there has been a decision to get state and local law enforcement involved in driving out the black market. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last February, Governor Jay Inslee called for “vigorous enforcement” of marijuana laws. He also sounded an optimistic note that local police would do the same – especially since local government will get a piece of the revenue pie from the sale of legal pot.

Even so, Liquor Control Board member Chris Marr is concerned the police will be stretched too thin. “What we’re hearing from law enforcement is they don’t have the resources to keep it in check.”

The Washington State Patrol acknowledges law enforcement resources are an issue. But the agency says it will continue to work with the feds to target mid-to-upper level marijuana dealers.

Pot consultant Kleiman sets a pretty low bar for success: if in year one 25-percent of the pot trade goes through licensed stores that will be “pretty satisfactory.”

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."