Hundreds of people celebrated the end of marijuana prohibition in Washington at the base of Seattle's Space Needle with a midnight celebratory toke. Public marijuana smoking remains a violation, but Seattle Police were told to issue "verbal warnings only" for any infractions. (AP)
SEATTLE, WA — Starting today, people aged 21 and over will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana in Washington state as voter-approved I-502 takes effect.
Hundreds of people celebrated at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle at a midnight gathering, celebrating the end of prohibition in the Evergreen State, lighting up following a New Year’s Eve style until midnight.
“This is a big day because all our lives we’ve been living under the iron curtain of prohibition,” said Seattle Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. “The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow.”
Washington law still prohibits smoking marijuana in public, which remains punishable by a fine, similar to alcohol public consumption. Seattle police, however, chose to look the other way for this one-time celebration, and no citations were issued.
“Until further notice, officers shall not take any enforcement action—other than to issue a verbal warning—for a violation of I-502,” said a Seattle Police directive issued Wednesday night.
Officers will be advising people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the Seattle Police Department’s blog. “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.”
On November 6, 55 percent of voters in both Washington and Colorado voted to make marijuana legal, making those states the first two to approve legally regulating marijuana like alcohol. Colorado’s Amendment 64 will take effect sometime between now and January 5, 2013.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board now has until December 1, 2013 to implement rules for creating a regulated market for legal cannabis sales. Home cultivation remains illegal, except for those authorized to do so under Washington’s medical marijuana program.
“Those looking to purchase marijuana legally will have to wait a little longer because the retail outlets to purchase it from don’t exist yet,” said Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Speculation is that the existing infrastructure from the now-defunct state run liquor stores, which voters put an end to in 2011, could become the backbone of Washington’s marijuana retail system. Private entities licensed by the state will produce, process, and sell marijuana, and it will be taxed at each step along the way.
Legal cannabis sales could generate as much as $1.9 billion in revenue over the first five fiscal years, according to the state’s Office of Financial Management. The office estimates a retail price of $12 per gram.
The immediate impact of the law will be to end arrests by Washington law enforcement of adults possessing up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use in private.
“Washington’s new law provides a safe and smart alternative to marijuana prohibition,” said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “Our state’s unfair and ineffective marijuana laws have damaged civil liberties in many ways – eroding protections against searches and seizures, putting large numbers of non-violent individuals behind bars, and targeting people of color.”
There were more than 241,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Washington State over the past 25 years at a cost to the state of over $300,000,000. In 2010 alone there were 11,000 arrests for marijuana possession.
A single arrest for possession costs from $1000 to $2000 and creates a permanent criminal record that can severely limit an individual’s ability to obtain housing, schooling, employment, and credit. In Washington, this waste of taxpayer dollars – and human potential – has now come to an end.
With marijuana possession now legal in Washington, and soon in Colorado, attention now turns to New England, where four states – Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont – are all looking at legalizing and regulating the marijuana market in 2013, with other states likely to follow.
“The only way federal marijuana prohibition is going to end is by voters and legislators in other states doing just what folks in those two states just did,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.