Seattle's pot-smokers inhale a new freedom

Gary Parrish smokes marijuana in a glass pipe just after midnight Thursday at the Space Needle in Seattle.
Gary Parrish smokes marijuana in a glass pipe just after midnight Thursday at the Space Needle in Seattle. (TED S. WARREN / AP)
Posted: December 07, 2012

SEATTLE - People openly lit joints under the Space Needle and on Seattle's sidewalks - then blew the smoke at TV news cameras. To those looking to "get baked," the city's police department suggested pizza and a Lord of the Rings movie marathon.

What, exactly, is going on in Washington state?

Marijuana possession became legal under state law Thursday, the day a measure approved by voters to regulate marijuana like alcohol took effect. It prompted midnight celebrations from pot activists who say the war on drugs has failed.

But as the dawn of legalization arrives, Washington and Colorado, where a similar law passed last month, now face some genuinely complicated dilemmas: How on earth do you go about creating a functioning legal-weed market? How do you ensure adults the freedom to use pot responsibly, or not so responsibly, while keeping it away from teenagers?

And perhaps most pressingly, will the Justice Department just stand by while the states issue licenses to the growers, processors and sellers of a substance that, under federal law, remains very much illegal?

"We're building this from the ground all the way up," said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Control Board, which is charged with regulating the drug. "The initiative didn't just wave a magic wand and make everybody here an expert on marijuana."

The measures approved on Nov. 6 have two main facets. First, they OK the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. That took effect Thursday in Washington, though it remains illegal - for now - to buy and sell pot, so people have to keep getting it from the marijuana fairy.

In Colorado, where pot fans will also be able to grow their own plants, the law takes effect by Jan. 5.

The other part of the measures, the regulatory schemes, are trickier. Washington's Liquor Control Board, which has been regulating alcohol for 78 years, has a year to adopt rules for the fledgling pot industry: How many growers, processors and stores should there be in each county? Should there be limits on potency? How should the pot be inspected, packaged, and labeled?

To help answer those questions, officials will turn to experts in the field - including police, public policy experts, and some of the state's many purveyors of medical marijuana.

With legalization, officials need to look at some of the measures that have been shown to reduce teen drinking, said Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention. That includes public education about the risks of pot use and driving while stoned, emphasizing police patrols to look for stoned drivers, and encouraging cities to adopt laws that hold parents accountable if they host parties at which children are provided marijuana.

comments powered by Disqus