Seattle closes in on fines for public pot smoking

SEATTLE -- It's never been legal, but getting caught smoking pot in public could soon cost you in Seattle.

A city council committee approved a plan to create a citation structure for people caught toking-up in public view. A first offense will result in a warning. A second offense allows Seattle Police to issue a $27 fine. Councilmember Nick Licata says it will give clear guidance to officers.

"I think they'll feel a little more confident of what the boundaries are that they will have to enforce," Licata said.

When voters approved the legalization of marijuana for adults last year, the law included a restriction on public consumption. Puffing up in city parks rubs plenty of people the wrong way, especially when they see officers nearby doing little or nothing to stop it. Liban Warsame sometimes smokes at Steinbrueck Park near Pike Place Market, and says he rarely gets hassled.

"Many officers see me smoking weed," Warsame said. "I'm a respectful young guy so when they see me smoke weed they are like 'OK, go a couple feet away from the public.' And I do."

Seattle Police agree they had a hands-off approach.

"For 2013, what you saw a lot of was public education for marijuana legalization. Enforcement was not what we were focusing on," said Det. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

This proposed ordinance signals that the pot-smoking grace period may have finally come to an end.

"We're not afraid to cite," Whitcomb said. "And with this ordinance, I think people should look for more enforcement."

City Attorney Pete Holmes says the proposal sets clear consequences for violators, but accommodations must still be made people who live in buildings where smoking is banned and for the homeless.

"It's really hard to tell someone you can't enjoy a right enjoyed by others simply because you don't own a home," Holmes said.

The proposal now goes to the full city council on Monday for final approval.