A man, who identified himself as "Professor Gizmo" lights up a pipe minutes before the law legalising the recreational use of marijuana went into effect in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Reuters.
Washington state has made history as the first in the US to
legalise marijuana for adult recreational use, an occasion
celebrated by dozens of users near Seattle's famed Space
Needle amid blaring reggae music and a haze of pot smoke.
The pre-dawn public gathering defied a key provision of the
state's landmark marijuana law, which allows possession of
small amounts of marijuana but forbids users from lighting up
outside the privacy of their homes.
The gathering also underscored mixed law enforcement messages
about the statute.
Hours earlier, Seattle's city attorney issued a stern warning
that public pot puffing would not be tolerated and violators
faced citations with $100 fines.
But the prosecutor's admonition was contradicted by the
Seattle Police Department's own instructions to officers to
limit their enforcement actions to warnings, at least for
The new law, passed by voters last month in a move that could
set the state up for a showdown with the federal government,
removes criminal sanctions for anyone 21 or older possessing
1 ounce (28.5 grams) or less of pot for personal use.
Colorado voters also chose to legalise pot for personal
recreational use, but that measure is not due to take effect
until next month. Both states are among 18 that have already
removed criminal sanctions for medical use of marijuana.
The Washington law legalises possession of up to 16 ounces
(0.45 kg) of solid cannabis-infused goods - like brownies or
cookies - and up to 72 ounces (2.4 kg) of weed in liquid
But driving under the influence of cannabis or imbibing in
public places where the consumption of alcohol is already
banned remain illegal.
"If you're smoking in plain public view, you're subject to a
ticket," Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes told a news
conference. "If drinking in public is disallowed, so is
smoking marijuana in public."
'VICTORY FOR HEMP'
The new law ultimately will permit cannabis to be legally
sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system to be
modeled after those in many states for alcohol sales.
The state Liquor Control Board, along with agriculture and
public health officials, have until next December to set up
such a system.
For now, it remains a crime to sell, cultivate or even share
one's own stash, even though the law allows individuals to
purchase a limited amount for personal possession.
Ironically, an early court challenge of the law came from a
medical marijuana patient in Olympia, who filed suit last
week seeking to block enforcement of a new standard for
marijuana impairment while driving, similar to the
blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving.
The plaintiff, Arthur West, says the new legal limit - 5
nanograms per milileter of blood of THC, pot's active
ingredient - would unfairly subject him to prosecution for a
THC level at which he routinely drives without impairment. A
hearing on his request for an injunction was set for Friday.
Little if any of the law's fine points seemed to matter to
the mellow and largely middle-aged gathering of about 100
people near the foot of the Space Needle as the statute took
effect at midnight.
Low-key cries of "Yeah!" and "Smoke some weed" and "Anybody
got a bong?" rose after an Oregon radio personality,
"Radical" Russ Belville, finished a 10-second countdown on a
Mike Momany, 61, wearing a black "Bad Pig" brand motorcycle
jacket, said he was forming the Washington State Cannabis
Tourism Association to promote pot tourism.
Although he has smoked grass for 40 years, Momany said he had
slowed his intake "because it makes me eat too much."
Another smoker, wearing sunglasses and calling himself
"Professor Gizmo," 50, said: "Victory for hemp. If our
forefathers could see us now."
No police were visible as the aroma of cannabis wafted
through the air and Bob Marley music blared from
loudspeakers. There were no immediate reports of any arrests.
Appeals to keep pot smoke indoors were expected to go
unheeded again at a larger celebration by marijuana advocates
planned for Thursday evening at the Space Needle.
Celebrations over pot legalisation were later overshadowed b
y violence, as police said two masked men who tried to rob a
large pot-growing operation in a residential garage were shot
and killed outside of Tacoma.
The Seattle Police Department publicised its laid-back pot
enforcement directive on its "SPD Blotter" website on
Wednesday, but advised against flagrantly lighting up in
"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," the notice said.
While asserting that public pot use remained expressly
prohibited, Seattle police said officers lacked clear
enforcement authority and that it would take at least 30 days
for legislation to be crafted enabling officers to cite
In the meantime, in the spirit of the new law, "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," the department's online message says.
Prosecutors in several counties said last month they were
dismissing scores of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases
in advance of the new law. But whether public or private,
cannabis use violates federal law, which classifies marijuana
as an illegal narcotic.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle reiterated on Wednesday
the U.S. Justice Department position that growing, selling or
possessing any amount of marijuana remained a federal crime,
regardless of any changes in state law.