Washington State Smokers Light Up After Marijuana Legalized

(Image 1)

SEATTLE (AP)
— The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle's Space
Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight
bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.

Hundreds
gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12
a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took
effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.

A
few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle
headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same,
offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news
cameras.

“I feel like a kid in a candy store!” shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. “It's all becoming real now!”

Washington
and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and
regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over
21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot
growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado's law is set to take
effect by Jan. 5.

Technically, Washington's
new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains
punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a
party, and Seattle police weren't about to write them any tickets.

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.

The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens
of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at
the King County auditor's office early Thursday.

King
County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors'
offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted
to be among the first to get their licenses.

Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Hours
later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of
men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of “Going to the
Chapel.”

Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.

In
dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300
officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until
further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.

Officers
will be advising people not to smoke in public, 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.”

He offered a
catchy new directive referring to the film “The Big Lebowski,” popular
with many marijuana fans: “The Dude abides, and says `take it inside!'”

“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 blow.”

Washington's
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.

“The
department's 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.”

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.

Alison
Holcomb is the drug policy director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Washington and served as the campaign manager for New Approach
Washington, which led the legalization drive. She said the voters
clearly showed they're done with marijuana prohibition.

“New
Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with
state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly
implemented,” she said.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s