Washington State’s Hazy Mess: Marijuana And The Feds
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
During this year’s November elections, citizens of Washington State voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Under the new laws, anyone over the age of 21 can carry up to an ounce of marijuana on their person without fear of being arrested.
This new law finally took effect on Thursday, but as several news sources have pointed out, the measure, known as Initiative 502, has only made the matter of marijuana even more complicated.
Just after 12:01 AM on Thursday morning, hundreds of pot enthusiasts gathered near Seattle’s Space Needle to toke up publicly in celebration of this new law. Yet, there was already some dissension among law officials about how to handle this “smoke-in.”
The City Attorney, for instance, had pledged to fine any public pot smokers $100. Currently, though citizens are allowed to carry and use marijuana recreationally, they’re not yet allowed to smoke in public places. According to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Police Department, on the other hand, directed their officers to issue only verbal reprimands to those imbibing marijuana in public.
On their Web site, the department issued a warning, saying officers would “give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in.”
Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes put it another way: “The people have spoken in a very clear way. It’s not about our personal individual law or set of convictions or beliefs,” he said. “We’ve sworn to uphold the law of the state, and the law has changed.”
Another complicated detail in this hazy mess: While Washingtonians are now allowed to purchase and possess up 1 ounce of pot (or 16 ounces of pot-laced baked goods) it is still illegal to sell and share marijuana. The State Liquor Control Board, along with agriculture and public health officials, will now get to work to implement a system to sell and tax those who purchase marijuana. Such a system needs to be in place by December 2013.
What’s more, while marijuana may now be “legal” in Washington State and Colorado, it still remains a federal crime to possess or smoke the stuff. Senior White House and Justice Department officials are now holding meetings to determine how federal law should react to these new state laws.
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has a few options they’re considering in handling this matter.
The Federal Government could sue Washington and other pot-friendly states for attempting to bypass federal law. If the justice department succeeds in this, they could remove the new laws under the assumption that voters wouldn’t have approved this new measure if there were stricter regulations in place.
The Federal Government could also hold their grants for ransom until these states return to the old laws.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” said United States Attorney Jenny A Durkin on Wednesday.
“Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”
For now, those pot-loving Washingtonians are enjoying this new law for as long as they can. Reuters described the scene at a second “smoke-in” as a peaceful gathering, with the music of Bob Marley thumping from loudspeakers.