My name is Bailey Hirschburg, I’m a board member of the Thurston County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Our director, Olympia CPA Rose Eilts, spearheaded a cost analysis of marijuana arrests throughout the county from 2002-11.
Yelm alone spent over $30k annually on arrests, mostly for possession.
The full report covers Yelm, and a lot of other cities.
We feel low level possession arrests have a disparate impact on smaller towns because they have fewer on duty law enforcement, one officer booking an adult for possession could be a third of the department’s manpower. The mayor of Yelm, and the city council, have already been sent copies of the report [A presentation was made last month to the Yelm City Council].
We feel this is relevant for not just because of legalization Initiative 502 being on the ballot, but because this is already being debated by cities and counties around the state. As we bring this up, we’d like to get feedback from local citizens and if possible raise local awareness. You can read our press release for the report at our website, www.NORMLThurston.org.
In the three minute public comment period [August 28th Yelm City Council Meeting], NORML Thurston County Director Rose Elits, explained the results of her arrest study and cost analysis for the City of Yelm: that in the last ten years Yelm made 1 arrest for marijuana sales and 115 arrests for marijuana possession, at a cost to the City of nearly $340,000. Ms Eilts formally requested the city consider a lowest enforcement policy, which would direct police, city attorney and prosecutors to make activities related to investigation, citation and/or arrest of adult cannabis users their lowest law enforcement priority.
Ms. Eilts had emailed the Council and Mayor the arrest study, and some Council members had read the study. Yelm City Councilman Mike McGowan brought up the fact that in the years 2009, 2010, and 2011, the number of marijuana possession arrests was 9, 3, and 2, respectively, as compared to the number of marijuana possession arrests in the years 2006, 2007, 2008 of 23, 21, and 16, respectively. Ms Eilts commented that by adopting a lowest enforcement policy would make it policy, not happenstance.
Mayor Ron Harding indicated the City has no policy towards adult possession arrests, indicating the arrests in recent years are not by any policy design. Fortunately none on the council expressed a desire to see increased arrest of adult marijuana users. Ms. Eilts asked that a Lowest Enforcement Policy be added as New Business for the City of Yelm, and save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over coming years. The council made no motion regarding the request.
Our report finds several cities have experienced a decline in the past few years, but without action or change in policy, this may be a temporary gain. Formalizing an informal policy is the only way to make Yelm’s gains permanent. The report is available at www.NormlThurston.org.
NORML Thurston County
Bailey Hirschburg is a social justice activist living in Lacey, WA. After leading a NORML chapter in college, he interned for the national offices of NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance, and organized a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy while a graduate student at Evergreen State College. In addition to NORML Thurston, Hirschburg is also a volunteer organizer for Yes on I-502.