Prosecutors say they're handcuffed by new pot law, can't prosecute any marijuana cases

by: John Knicely Updated:

SEATTLE —

Right now, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says he can’t prosecute any marijuana cases because the new legal recreational pot law changed how marijuana is defined. 

On Thursday, a state House committee took action in an emergency meeting to change the law, but it might not pass the full House and Senate before they adjourn Sunday.

It all centers on the chemical that gets you high, THC.  The new law separates the types of THC, defining marijuana as containing 3 percent delta-9 THC. 

State police crime lab technicians told the House committee that their equipment can’t differentiate.  So at this point they can’t definitively say anything is marijuana.

“It came to us late, but if we don’t fix it now we’re going to be in a world of hurt for the next yeadir where we can’t prosecute any pot cases,” Satterberg said.

The House committee approved a change to the law to include all types of THC, and not just D-9. 

Crime lab technicians said this will bring them into unison with the United Nations and other countries in defining what is marijuana verses what is hemp. 

Those who pushed for legal pot said they're fine with the change.  Steve Sarich isn’t.  He’s with the Cannibis Action Committee and argued that could stop attempts to build a hemp industry.

“When they went to test it in that machine, it’s going to come out as marijuana, not as hemp,” he said. 

Satterberg rejects that idea.

“I’m convinced that’s a red herring, because we can easily distinguish the hemp industry from the marijuana industry," he said. "The THC in recreational marijuana is at least 10 times what it is in hemp.”

Changes to the law must now be approved by the full House and Senate before they adjourn Sunday.  If the law isn’t changed, the only option State police would have is to buy new equipment that can single out the D-9 THC.

“If we don’t change our state definition then we’re forced to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of new techniques and it’s going to take many months to get our crime labs up to speed,” Satterberg said.

To be clear, the issues with this new legal marijuana law don’t impact how marijuana is tested once somebody has smoked or ingested it, so it doesn’t impact DUI laws and how that is measured. This is only testing marijuana in its substance form.

Get more information on legal pot in Washington in our special section.