Legal prohibition against marijuana is going up in smoke. Cops in Seattle now look the other way when potheads puff in public because Washington has become the first state in the nation to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Voters in the Evergreen State approved Initiative 502 on Nov. 6. The age of cannabis arrived on Dec. 6 as the new law took effect.
“Legalize it” campaigners celebrated Thursday by gathering by the dozens at Seattle’s Space Needle to light up at the stroke of midnight. The law allows anyone 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce of weed, but only for use indoors. Colorado passed a similar ballot measure, which took effect yesterday when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed it into law.
Seattle police officers were instructed to keep their distance and refrain from issuing $100 tickets to anyone caught smoking ganja in public — at least for now. “[I]n keeping with the spirit of I-502, the department’s going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in,” wrote Seattle Police Department spokesman Jonah Spangethal-Lee on the department’s online blotter.
Though the state may have lifted its constraints from recreational pot use, a stoner still faces enough legal anomalies to make his head spin. Selling the stuff remains illegal in Washington, leaving pot smokers in the awkward position of having to do business with criminals in order to procure a no-longer illegal product. State officials hope to remedy the problem by establishing a system for licensing pot growers and sellers, but the process could take a year. In the meantime, buyer beware.
Businesses in Washington and Colorado must also figure out how to straighten the twisted logic of maintaining a drug-free workplace in places where drug use is legal. “There’s just an incredible amount of gray right now” about how marijuana legalization affects employers, Sandra Hagen Solin of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, a coalition of chambers of commerce, told The Associated Press.
Authorities shouldn’t count on much help from the feds. The day before Washington’s new pot law took effect, the Justice Department issued a statement reminding Americans, “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.” The warning is unlikely to prompt much paranoia among users because Justice has been blinking since 1996, when California became the first among 20 states and the District of Columbia to sanction marijuana use for “medical purposes.”
The counterculture, now as mainstream as the ‘60s mantra of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” has been written into federal code. Rock music achieved respectability decades ago. The Obamacare mandate that employers provide contraception coverage at no cost will soon ensure that free sex is indeed free. Now pot has cracked the barrier of acceptability. As “just say no” to drugs fades into history, Americans must face the consequences of saying yes.
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