SEATTLE -- Legal marijuana possession becomes a reality under
Washington state law on Thursday, and some people planned to celebrate
the new law by breaking it.
Voters in Washington and Colorado last
month made those the first states to decriminalize and regulate the
recreational use of marijuana. Washington's law takes effect Thursday
and allows adults to have up to an ounce of pot - but it bans public use
of marijuana, which is punishable by a fine, just like drinking in
Nevertheless, some people planned to gather at 12:01 a.m.
PST Thursday to smoke in public beneath Seattle's Space Needle. Others
planned a midnight party outside the Seattle headquarters of Hempfest,
the 21-year-old festival that attracts tens of thousands of pot fans
"This is a big day because all our lives we've been
living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Hempfest director
Vivian McPeak. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body
In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris
Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex
marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian
couples to wed.
That law also takes effect Thursday, when gay and
lesbian couples can start picking up their wedding certificates and
licenses at county auditors' offices. Those offices in King County, the
state's largest and home to Seattle, and Thurston County, home to the
state capital of Olympia, planned to open the earliest, at 12:01 a.m.
Thursday, to start issuing marriage licenses. Because the state has a
three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is
The Seattle Police Department provided this public
marijuana use enforcement guidance to its officers via email Wednesday
night: "Until further notice, officers shall not take any enforcement
action - other than to issue a verbal warning - for a violation of
Thanks to a 2003 law, marijuana enforcement
remains the department's lowest priority. Even before I-502 passed on
Nov. 6, police rarely busted people at Hempfest, despite widespread pot
use, and the city attorney here doesn't prosecute people for having
small amounts of marijuana.
Officers will be advising people to
take their weed inside, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on
the SPD Blotter. "The police department believes that, under state law,
you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a 'Lord of
the Rings' marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to."
new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce for those over 21,
but for now selling marijuana remains illegal. I-502 gives the state a
year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and
retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage.
Analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington
hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools,
health care and basic government functions.
But marijuana remains
illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest
people for it, and it's banned from federal properties, including
military bases and national parks.
The Justice Department has not
said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in
Washington and Colorado from taking effect.
responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains
unchanged," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Seattle U.S.
attorney's office. "Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a
statute passed by Congress" - a non-issue, since the measures passed in
Washington and Colorado don't "nullify" federal law, which federal
agents remain free to enforce.
The legal question is whether the
establishment of a regulated marijuana market would "frustrate the
purpose" of the federal pot prohibition, and many constitutional law
scholars say it very likely would.
That leaves the political
question of whether the administration wants to try to block the
regulatory system, even though it would remain legal to possess up to an
ounce of marijuana.
Colorado's measure, as far as decriminalizing
possession goes, is set to take effect by Jan. 5. That state's
regulatory scheme is due to be up and running by October 2013.