TACOMA, Wash. -- People in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in Washington state may soon not have to worry about prosecution. Budget cuts are looming over Washington State Patrol crime labs and managers at the labs are preparing for the worst.
Under the results of what managers called a “10 percent budget cut exercise,” six lab workers around the state would be laid off and the state lab would no longer analyze controlled substances like cocaine in cases of simple possession.
“Certainly we will continue to look at big drug dealers, people who do major amounts (and) organized drug distribution operations,” said Bob Caulkins with the state crime lab.
However, in cases of simple possession – for example, if an officer pulls over a speeder and can tell the driver is not impaired, but notices a small amount of illegal drugs in the car – the drugs would no longer be analyzed.
An officer would still take the drugs away, but prosecutors rarely win a conviction without a state lab test, Caulkins said.
The state lab stopped testing small amounts of marijuana a long time ago, Caulkins said.
But simple possession is a felony.
“It is dangerous, they are felonies,” Caulkins said. “However, we all know that times are tough economically and that forces us to make some very difficult choices.”
The state would still analyze small amounts of drugs in cases where they are an aggravating factor, like homicide, even if the budget cuts happened, Caulkins said.
Requests for tests in simple possession cases are down 16 percent so far in 2010, Caulkins said. But requests for DNA tests are up 26 percent.
“So when we look at, kind of the demand for our services, we have to go where the demand is,” Caulkins said.
He downplayed the idea that budget reductions could send the wrong message to the public.
“The message it needs to send is simply that times are tough,” Caulkins said. “It’s not in any way the State Patrol taking, expressing less concern about drugs.”
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News
October 4, 2010
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