Meet the author of Seattle PD’s quirky ‘Marijwhatnow?’ legal marijuana use FAQ

“This is the funniest police department press release/FAQ I’ve ever seen in my life,” Albany Times Union news research director Sarah Hinman Ryan writes in an email.

The former Seattle resident is referring to Seattle Police Department “Blotter” writer Jonah Spangenthal-Lee’s quirky post, “Marijwhatnow?: A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle,” in which he give answers to questions like:

* “Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?” and
* “What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?”

The Twitterverse loves it: “awesome”; “pretty amazing”; and “very coolly written” are among the comments.

Who is Spangenthal-Lee? He joined the police department in March after working as a crime reporter at The Stranger alt-weekly and PubliCola, and launching A Stranger editor says Spangenthal-Lee “has the chops of a hard-boiled 1940s reporter with one of those over-sized ‘Press’ cards leaning crookedly in his fedora [but] is actually an amiable, young hip-hop dude.”

I asked him about his “Marijwhatnow?” release.

The reaction’s been great thus far. I figured it would be a hit, but it’s still feels pretty good to see it shared all over Fark, the Seattle Reddit page, Facebook and Twitter. When I took this job, my goal was to help the department proactively put out timely, clear information in an accessible way, and I think this is a great example of that. Internally, the feedback’s also been very positive as well.

I was curious about the last line of his post: “This post has been updated since its initial publication to include more legalese and fewer references to narcotics dogs which, as it turns out, are still a confusing, complicated issue still under review.”

He explained:

As to the update, I was asked to add some boilerplate lawyerish changes and disclaimers — “According to state law,” “allowed” to “not prohibited” and “the Seattle Police cannot predict or control the enforcement activities of federal authorities,” etc). Nothing about the actual content or style, though.


The line about drug dogs was “police can only use a narcotics dog if they have a warrant,” which as it turns out is a much more complicated legal issue (or so I’m told). It seemed easier to just remove that line rather than try to unpackage a whole series of ideas/issues that didn’t actually do much to help get at the answer to the question I was trying to answer.

While I’ve never liked having to make edits to a piece so quickly after posting, I see this as a bit of a living document, which will be amended over time as attorneys, state, local, and federal officials pick over the law to figure out exactly how this is all going to play out.

How is the transition from traditional reporting to SPD Blotter reporting going?

My experience at SPD has been great so far. I don’t doubt they knew what they’d be in for when they brought me on, but the department’s chiefs and my boss have been very supportive and flexible about letting me try some things that are, stylistically, a bit different from what you’d typically find on a .gov site. They’ve let me continue to do the things I’m good at in the way I like doing them.

* Marijwhatnow: A guide to legal marijuana use in Seattle (
* March 1: Spangenthal-Lee joins Seattle Police Department (
* Earlier: Ex-TV reporter writes entertaining blotter items for Madison police (