Do Homeless People Need A Place To Smoke Pot So They Don't Light Up In Public?

Jul 23, 2014

Of the 82 tickets Seattle police officers issued for public marijuana use in the first six months of this year, 38 of them — nearly half — went to people who were probably homeless.

For Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, that raises a question: Don't the economically-distressed need a place to go to smoke pot legally, without doing so in public?

"What we don't want to create is a situation where we literally are giving citations away to people that are going to end up having their record affected for engaging in activity that otherwise would be legal, except that it's just done outside," Licata said.

Licata and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes raised this issue in a joint statement Wednesday following a Seattle Police Department report on marijuana-related tickets officers issued between January and June.

While possessing up to an ounce of marijuana is legal under Washington state law, city ordinance makes it a $27 fine to consume marijuana in public.

Data in the report showed officers gave most of the citations in Victor Steinbrueck Park or within a two-block radius of Westlake Park. Of the 81 people receiving marijuana-related tickets, the data showed nearly half of them listed legal addresses affiliated with homeless services, mental health services, transitional housing, low-income housing, motels or post offices.

The report also showed 36 percent of the tickets issued went to African-Americans, though Licata says Census data shows only 8 percent of Seattle residents are black.

Licata said he believes there's a need for either a shift in policy or "structural changes to accommodate folks who are smoking marijuana so that they don't do it publicly."

He doesn't have a specific proposal about how to address it, but says "everything should be on the table."

"We have some hurdles to overcome here, it's a bit of a puzzle," Licata said. "he value of the report is that it identifies a problem that may turn out to be minor or may turn out to be something that's growing in the future."

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