Washington pot law jeopardizes prosecutions

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SEATTLE — Prosecutors and crime lab scientists say a little-noticed provision in Washington’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana has jeopardized their ability to go after any pot crimes at all, and they’re calling for an immediate fix in the Legislature.

The problem stems from a part of the law meant to distinguish marijuana from industrial hemp. The law defines marijuana as having more than 0.3 percent of an intoxicating compound, delta-9 THC.

Scientists with the state crime lab say that often, even potent marijuana can have less than 0.3 percent. It’s only when heated or burned that another compound, THC acid, turns into delta-9 THC and the pot achieves its full potency.

That means that if people get caught with more than an ounce of marijuana — the amount adults are allowed to have under the law — or if police bust illicit grow operations, prosecutors might not be able to prove the plants or material seized meets the definition of marijuana.

Prosecutors and crime lab scientists worked to draft legislation to fix the problem by changing the definition of marijuana. The measure, introduced Tuesday, would define marijuana as parts of the cannabis plant containing more than 0.3 percent by dry weight of combined delta-9 THC and THC acid. The bill is due to have a public hearing in a House committee today.

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