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King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg warned that driving under the influence of marijuana will be more difficult to prosecute than drunk driving cases. (KIRO Radio Photo/Brandi Kruse/File)

Sheriff, prosecutor view state marijuana law differently

The top two criminal justice officials in King County are political allies, but they have different takes on the state law that legalizes recreational marijuana.

When asked about the state's new pot law, Sheriff John Urquhart considered the impact on his budget. He figures it'll save time and money because he won't have to investigate as many crimes often associated with marijuana.

"We don't believe there's going to be as many armed robberies as there have been in the past. We won't have the arrests we've had in the past. I think it's going to lighten our workload and overall, it's going to be a positive thing for King County and the state of Washington."

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is worried about a crime that the sheriff didn't mention: driving under the influence.

"Marijuana is something that definitely affects people's driving and judgement, particularly when you mix marijuana and alcohol together, they have exponential effects and I don't know that we've even begun to talk about the roadway safety impacts of having another legal intoxicant in our state."

Satterberg spoke Thursday shortly after he convicted repeat drunk driver Mark Mullan on charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault for running down four people on a street in Wedgwood last March, killing two.

Satterberg warned that driving under the influence of marijuana will be more difficult to prosecute than drunk driving cases, for two reasons.

"First, you need a warrant to get blood, so it's not something where one can just blow on a tube. The blood has to go to a toxicology lab and then we have to prove that at the time of driving that the person was under the influence of marijuana."

A roadside sobriety test gets you probable cause. But Satterberg said proof of guilt in court requires a blood test. For drunk driving, a formula exists to calculate backward the level of intoxication in the hours before the blood was drawn.

"No such accepted formula exists for marijuana. People metabolize it at a different rate and so, it's going to be litigated for sure."

Satterberg said the only real solution is a public realization that driving under the influence of anything can't be tolerated.


Tim Haeck, KIRO Radio Reporter
Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.
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