New marijuana law could cause backlogs at state crime labs

Jan 2, 2013

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Washington State law enforcement officials are slowly becoming familiar with the details of the new marijuana law. It makes it legal for people 21 and older to possess small amounts of the drug.  However one aspect of the initiative could create huge backlogs at the state’s crime labs.

It used to be if police wanted to arrest someone for possessing marijuana they could do a simple test right there on the spot that could tell them if the substance was pot. But under the new law something is only marijuana if it contains more than 3-tenths of 1 percent of the psychoactive ingredient THC.  

If a prosecutor wants to move ahead with a case they have to send a sample to one of the state’s crime labs to be analyzed by a 100-thousand dollar piece of equipment. George Johnston, is a manager at one of the labs, a place that is already very busy.

"We always run backlogs. Right now our controlled substances backlog is running between twenty and thirty days for most of the labs. They are getting a few more cases a month then they can complete."

The number  of prosecuted marijuana cases could go down because it’s now legal for people 21 and over to possess an ounce. However, a lot of things are still illegal.  It is still against the law to grow it, to sell it outside of a medical marijuana establishment and to have anything over an ounce. The drug is completely off limits to anyone under 21.

If prosecutors decide to move forward with cases involving marijuana they will be looking at, at least 3 months for the crime lab to come back with its THC results. A committee is trying to figure out a solution to the potential backlog.