Top brass from the Seattle Police Department will be on hand this weekend as marijuana advocates gather in Seattle for the Cannabis Freedom March. But when law enforcement officials like interim Police Chief Jim Pugel make their appearances, they won't be busting demonstrators -- they'll be officially taking part in their event.
"This is a public outreach opportunity," SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, who is also speaking at the pot rally, told The Stranger. "Our department has been on the leading edge of public education and awareness surrounding Initiative 502. For us to be invited to the Cannabis Freedom March is fitting and not really surprising."
With marijuana now legal in Washington state after voters passed Initiative 502 in November, state law enforcement has taken steps to make inroads into the community it was once expected to view as made up of law-breakers.
"It's not a surprise," Whitcomb says. "I think it's clearly a sign of the times."
That said, smoking pot in public -- an activity that isn't uncommon at pro-marijuana events -- still isn't legal, which could make their participation in the march somewhat awkward. The event itself doesn't condone marijuana use, and is instead billed as a demonstration in favor of ending pot prohibition "once and for all."
The SPD has endorsed 502 as a positive policy change. Pugel spoke highly of the new law earlier this year, saying that it had simplified his duties.
“To me and what I hear from the officers, it’s clarified what our responsibilities are,” Pugel told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “It was very hazy with both the undefined and vague rules surrounding medical marijuana and the fact that we as a city stated that it would be our lowest priority of enforcement.”
Pugel has even admitted to having tried marijuana, according to the Post-Intelligencer -- once, while in middle school.