City Hall

Afternoon Fizz: Human Services and Public Pot Consumption

Mayor Ed Murray appoints a new head of human services, and city attorney Pete Holmes says it's time to stop targeting black and homeless people for smoking pot in public.

By Erica C. Barnett July 23, 2014

Two Extra Fizz items this afternoon:

1. A new report from the Seattle Police Department shows that black and homeless people have been disproportionately targeted for enforcement of Seattle's law against smoking marijuana (now legal for recreational consumption thanks to 2012's I-502) in public.

The report found that of 82 tickets issued during the first half of 2014, 36 percent were issued to African Americans (who make up 8 percent of the Seattle population), and 46 percent were issued to people with addresses associated with homeless services, transitional housing, P.O. boxes, mental health services, or motels—which is to say, just 54 percent of those cited for smoking pot in public had a permanent address.

City Attorney Pete Holmes.

Of the African Americans cited for violating the law, 32.9 percent of the 36 percent were male. Of the 50 percent of those cited who were white, 43,9 percent were male, making white males the largest demographic group cited for violating the law. The average age of those who received tickets was 34, although the ages ranged from 18 to 77. 

A plurality of the citations (31.7 percent) were issued in Victor Steinbrueck Park in Belltown. 

In a statement, city council member Nick Licata and city attorney Pete Holmes, who were both advocates for legalizing recreational pot use, said the fact that the law banning public consumption seems to disproportionately affect people of color and, in particular, homeless individuals, suggests "the need for places where people can legally consume marijuana in Seattle," other than private residences, which is the only place where pot smoking is currently allowed.

"We look forward to their guidance regarding how we can improve our city’s marijuana policies for all residents," the joint statement concluded.

2. Seattle's Human Services Department, which was rocked by changes and controversy during the McGinn era (changes that culminated in the abrupt resignation of polarizing short-term director Dannette Smith, whose controversial decisions included eliminating the department's domestic violence, youth development, and early learning divisions), has a new interim director. 

Today, Mayor Ed Murray announced the appointment of former Washington Education Association director and WSDOT regional administrator John Okamoto as interim head of HSD. Okamoto will replace current interim director Katherine Lester; Murray says he plans to choose a permanent director for the troubled department by the middle of next year.

Murray also re-appointed Fred Podesta, a longtime city department head, as director of the office of Finance and Administrative Services (which was created out of two departments, including one Podesta headed, under former mayor Mike McGinn, and Glen Lee, another McGinn appointee, as city finance director.



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