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Seattle City Attorney may have violated HR policy with marijuana purchase

City Attorney Pete Holmes, a longtime proponent of the legalization of recreational cannabis, may have been in direct violation of city policy when he purchased marijuana in front of dozens of reporters and television cameras Tuesday. (AP photo)

While it made for a good photo-op, City Attorney Pete Holmes may have been in violation of city policy when he bought marijuana in front of dozens of reporters and television cameras Tuesday and then brought his purchase back to City Hall.

Holmes, a longtime proponent of the legalization of recreational cannabis, was among the first in line to buy pot at the grand opening of Seattle’s first legal marijuana store, Cannabis City.

Jason Rantz:

“I’m calling on the City to admit what Holmes did was a violation and discipline him – or just don’t hold the other city employees to the rules.”

Jason’s take

“This is a tectonic shift in public policy,” Holmes told reporters. “It’s bringing it out of the shadows and it’s bringing it into the light of day. That’s why I’m here.”

Holmes emerged from the store, pot in hand, and told a media scrum outside that he planned to keep half of the marijuana for posterity and smoke the rest.

It was a historic moment, but one that could have landed Holmes in hot water with the city’s human resources department.

In an internal memo sent Wednesday evening, the city’s personnel director reminded all employees that they cannot possess marijuana while conducting city business, on or off city premises.

“Notwithstanding Washington State’s legalization of marijuana, as a recipient of federal funding, the City of Seattle is still subject to the terms of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988,” Susan Coskey wrote in the memo, obtained by KIRO Radio.

“Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I (illegal) drug, and the city must prohibit the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession or use of a controlled substance on city premises or while conducting city business on or off of city premises,” Coskey wrote.

She noted that “violation of the City’s Drug-Free Workplace Policy may subject an employee to disciplinary actions.”

The July 8 visit to the pot store is listed on Holmes’ official calendar for that day as “Grand Opening Cannabis City.” The calendar, obtained through public disclosure, does not indicate that Holmes used vacation or personal time to visit the pot store.

Holmes was asked by reporters outside Cannabis City Tuesday if he violated any city policy or ordinance with the purchase. He said he did not.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Kimberly Mills, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, denied that Holmes was in violation of city policy when he bought the pot. However, when pressed further and asked whether Holmes dropped the pot off at home or carried it with him for the rest of the afternoon, during which he had several official city meetings, Mills sent the following email:

At 11 a.m. Tuesday Pete went to Cannabis City in SoDo to mark the historic opening of the City’s first licensed 502 business, a milestone in transitioning from the illegal marijuana market to the highly regulated and taxed system approved by Washington voters in 2012.

When he returned to City Hall at 1 p.m. for his afternoon meetings, Pete brought the marijuana he had purchased at Cannabis City with him and secured it in his office. The packages remained there, unopened, until he drove home, dropped them off, and then headed out to the South Precinct Community Walk.

Even after sending the email, Mills denied that Holmes violated the policy, which expressly prohibits employees from bringing marijuana onto city property.

It is not clear if some sort of loophole exists for the city attorney.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city’s personnel department planned to discuss the matter with Holmes and his office.

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