Smok­ers fire up to cel­e­brate le­gal­ized pot

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Gene­john­son

SEAT­TLE — 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 21 and older. 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 deal­ing with mar­i­juana, the Seat­tle Po­lice De­part­ment told its 1,300 of­fi­cers Wed­nes­day 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,” Hempfest di­rec­tor Vi­vian McPeak said. “The whole world sees that pro­hi­bi­tion just took a body blow.”

Washington’s new law de­crim­i­nal­izes pos­ses­sion of up to an ounce, but for now sell­ing mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal. I-502 gives the state a year to come up with a sys­tem of statelicensed 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.

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