Patrick Robinson
You can have it, you can smoke it (but not in public though you won't be arrested) but you can't legally buy it.

Pot: It’s legal to have and to smoke, but not to buy … yet

Celebratory joints, pipes and bongs packed with marijuana were fired up around Washington State on Dec. 6 with Initiative 502 - allowing for the recreational use of pot for those 21 and older - kicking in.

While it is now perfectly legal under state law for adults to have up to an ounce of marijuana in their possession (in addition to 16 ounces of marijuana-infused foods and 72 ounces of THC-infused liquids) and use it in the privacy of their own home, there is still the question of how exactly people are supposed to get it.

Everyday citizens (besides medical marijuana patients who operate under a different set of rules from I-502) are not allowed to grow their own pot. They are supposed to purchase it from state-licensed retail stores where sin taxes can be applied and revenue raised, primarily for public health programs in the state.

One problem: Those stores don’t exist yet.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, recently relieved of their jurisdiction over liquor sales with privatization taking effect, has given themselves one year to write the rules on how to license marijuana growers, distributors and retail outlets.

Once that system is in place adults in Washington will have a clear path to procuring pot, assuming the federal government doesn’t step in with a lawsuit to delay the process – which many say is likely, although the feds have not stated their plans yet.

As U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan stated a few days before the law took effect, “Neither States nor the Executive Branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law”

Technically, that means a DEA task force could swoop in and arrest anyone for marijuana possession – even the 45 year old trying grass again for the first time in a few decades. Historically, however, they tend to focus higher up the chain, including medical marijuana dispensaries raided in West Seattle and White Center in 2011.

Stateside, it remains illegal to sell marijuana without that state license and dealers can still be arrested for possession with intent to sell, according to Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It will be legal for a marijuana dealer to walk around with up to an ounce of marijuana in his possession, either in one large bag, or individually packaged for sales,” King County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit Detective Joe Gagliardi wrote in an email. “It will not be legal for anyone to sell marijuana to anyone, regardless of age or whether it is done openly or covertly, without being one of the specific dealers designated and licensed by the state.”

From law enforcement’s perspective, Gagliardi said illegal pot distribution won’t change much for gangs and/or dealers.

“None of this is new,” he said, “… it’s all being done by street gangs and organized crime on a daily basis, and has been for years. As such, it’s pretty much ‘business as usual’ … people get their marijuana from drug dealers now, and they’ll continue to do so in the future. The only difference is that it’s now a little harder for us to arrest the street level dealer and move up the food chain to his suppliers.”

Meanwhile, things are getting pretty lax for the 21 and older pot smoker in Seattle. On the eve of Dec. 6, the Seattle Police Department shared a memo sent to their entire force stating, “Until further notice, officers shall not take any enforcement action – other than to issue a verbal warning – for a violation of I-502.”

Minors can still be arrested and charged for marijuana possession and use, just like alcohol.

As SPD’s Johah Spangenthal-Lee put it, “… you’re not supposed to use marijuana in public, and … selling it or giving it away to anyone is still a felony,” however until police get “clear” direction from changes in the Revised Code of Washington State or Seattle Municipal Code, they will not be citing people for lighting up in public. According to the memo, SPD expects changes in the revised state code to come in January. If the Seattle City Council passes a city code on the issue of smoking pot in public, it would take 30 days to take effect.

“Does this mean you should flagrantly roll up a mega-spliff and light up in the middle of the street? No,” Spangenthal-Lee wrote. “If you smoking pot in public, officers will be giving helpful reminders to folks about the rules and regulations under I-502 (like not smoking pot in public).

“Also,” he continued, “please remember it’s still not legal to drive stoned, use marijuana in a public space or anywhere else smoking a cigarette is prohibited.”

And a final reminder from the federal government: “Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains illegal to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations and courthouses.”

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