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Marijuana is Now Legal in Washington State! [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #762)
Drug War Issues

As of today, Thursday, December 6, 2012, marijuana possession is legal in the state of Washington. Under the I-502 initiative passed by the state's voters last month, adults 21 and older can now legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles) without fear of arrest or criminal prosecution.

King 5 news report (
The date comes just one day after the 80th anniversary of the end of alcohol Prohibition and could mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition in the United States. Colorado voters also legalized marijuana, and it will be legal to possess an ounce there -- and grow up to six plants -- sometime between now and January 5, the last day the governor has to ratify the November election results.

Alaska had been the only state to allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But, citing the state constitution's privacy protections, Alaska courts found that right only existed in the privacy of one's home.

Emboldened by the popular vote in Colorado and Washington, legislators in at least four states so far have now filed or will soon file marijuana legalization bills, with more to follow. And in states where the initiative process is allowed, activists are chomping at the bit in a race to be the next to legalize it at the ballot box (although they may want to wait for 2016, when the presidential race increases liberal turnout). And a spate of public opinion polls released since the election show support for legalization nationwide now cracking the 50% barrier.

While the federal government may attempt to block efforts to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce in the two states, it cannot block them from removing marijuana offenses from their criminal codes. Nor can it make them reinstate them. News reports have noted that the federal government has no plans to intervene in Washington state's legalization today.

I-502 isn't a free for all. It remains a criminal offense to grow or distribute marijuana, and the state-licensed producers and stores for legal cultivation and sales and regulations governing them are a year away. There is no way in the meanwhile to legally buy marijuana. You can't smoke it in public (though that proscription is unlikely to hold for today at least), or drive in a vehicle with a lit joint (an offense equivalent to open container laws). If you live or work on federal property, you are still subject to federal drug laws. And if you're under 21, you're out of luck.

But, those caveats aside, pot possession is legal today in Washington, with sales and production coming, and that's a big deal.

"Washington state and Colorado made history on Election Day by becoming not just the first two states in the country -- but the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world -- to approve the legal regulation of marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "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."

"This is incredibly significant," said freshly minted Marijuana Policy Project communications director Mason Tvert, who just took the job after leading the Colorado Amendment 64 campaign to victory. "This is having a major impact on public perceptions and is showing that times are changing and a majority of people in various areas are ready to take these steps."

"This is the single most important event that has occurred in 75 year of marijuana prohibition," said Keith Stroup, founder and currently counsel for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "The change in the perception of what is possible has been dramatic. Now, elected officials and state legislatures all over the country are honestly considering the option of tax and regulate where before November that was generally perceived as a radical proposal."

The election results are shifting the parameters of the discussion, the silver-haired attorney and activist said.

"Several states are considering full legalization now, and that makes decriminalization sound like a moderate step, which could work in a lot of Southern and Midwestern states where they're perhaps not quite ready yet to set up a regulated market," Stroup pointed out. "The context of the public policy debate has totally changed as a result of Colorado and Washington. It's as dramatic as anything I've witnessed in my lifetime."

While reformers are elated, author and marijuana scholar Martin Lee had a slightly more sober assessment.

"It's way too early to tell whether I-502 in Washington state signals the death knell of marijuana prohibition in the United States," said Lee, who recently published Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana -- Medical, Recreational, and Scientific.

"The cultural momentum in the United States favors marijuana legalization, but the political response, thus far, has been lagging," Lee noted. "Political change can sometimes happen very quickly -- think of the sudden demise of Soviet Bloc Communism after the Berlin Wall unexpectedly toppled in 1989. Swift, dramatic change seems possible with respect to cannabis prohibition, which is based on lies and could collapse like a house of cards. But powerful political interests in the United States -- in particular law enforcement -- have long benefited from the war on drugs and they are reluctant to throw in the towel."

Lee also raised the specter of law enforcement retaliation, especially against some of its easiest targets.

"My biggest concern is that the new state law in Washington will do little to prevent or discourage law enforcement from selectively targeting and harassing young people, especially young African-Americans and Latinos. Racial profiling is endemic in Washington state and throughout the United States," he said.

"It's also disconcerting that I-502 includes a zero tolerance provision for under 21-year-old drivers, who could be punished severely if blood tests show any trace of THC metabolites (breakdown products) in their system. Because THC metabolites can remain in the body for four weeks or longer, blood and urine tests for marijuana can't measure impairment. What's to stop law enforcement in Washington from randomly testing and arresting minority youth under the guise of public safety?"

It remains to be seen just how the DUID provision will work out, either for young drivers or for drivers over 21, who face a presumption of impaired driving if THC levels are over a specified standard. The record from other states with either zero tolerance or per se DUID laws suggest they make little difference in DUID arrest rates, perhaps because of probable cause standards needed to conduct blood tests or the time and complexity involved in doing so.

Regardless of valid concerns, the fact remains that the wall of marijuana prohibition in the US has just had a huge hole punched in it. And the margins of victory in Colorado and Washington -- each initiative won with 55% of the vote -- leave breathing room for activists in other states to consider not including such controversial provisions, which were seen by proponents as necessary to actually win the vote.

As veteran activist Stroup put it, despite the contentiousness and the sops to the opposition, for marijuana activists, "This is a great time to be alive. I wish folks like Mezz Mezrow, Louis Armstrong, and Allen Ginsberg, who helped form LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana), then Amorphia, which morphed into NORML, could have been around to see this."

While Stroup took a moment to look backward, DPA's Nadelmann was looking forward.

"Now, the race is on as to who will be first to leapfrog the Dutch and implement a full legal regulatory system for marijuana:  Washington, Colorado or Uruguay!” he told the Chronicle.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Mike Dar (not verified)

Finally, in several States Police officers will not be able to grab and detain... and then drop massive overtime on their departments, first going into long 'questioning periods', and filling out paperwork for hours on the trumped up reasoning of 'protecting society' for simple possession , but really getting 3 hours overtime @ 50$ an hour... all paid with local taxes.


Who, and they(police have their share of sociopathic) would not want to arrest someone of color for possession(much of which falls under the domain "who's going to complain") and double the daily salary?

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 1:03pm Permalink
Mark Mitcham (not verified)

In reply to by Mike Dar (not verified)

Lots of people have been hurt by the war on drugs.

From the white college student who loses their tuition, to the black youths killed by cops,

the damage ranges from bad to worse, all the way to the ultimate price: death.  (60 or 61

now this year, I think?, according to this site.)


But I think the systematic RACISM that comprises the war on drugs is the most horrifying aspect

of the whole thing.


I'm overjoyed every time I think about all the shit that WON'T happen now.  Hey Cop:

Other than being black (which is legal), and marijuana (which legal)... what did he do???

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 5:34pm Permalink
Jeff Brown (not verified)

Marijuana aka hemp cannabis is the most useful plant on the planet. Food, clothing, shelter, energy, medicine, insight, re-creation. Thanks to all  who have awakened the people. It is only a matter of time before the final blocks of prohibition go tumbling down. All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn;t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 2:46pm Permalink
Anna (not verified)

In reply to by Jeff Brown (not verified)

Usefulness of Hemp MJ Herb...I read Marijuan Hemp can be used as  a "rotation crop"; adding Nitrogen to field during dry or cool seasons; I understannd Dr. Bronner's son "manufactured Hemp Seed Oil in front White House; (he was arrested; not sure for what: you can buy Dr. Bronners' Hemp Soaps and Shampoos;..."Hemp Coconur oil soaps!

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 5:14pm Permalink
Goofstr (not verified)

This is fantastic news. Now to get arrested it has to be done by a federal officer, you have go to federal jail, then federal court time and costs. Even then with more people understanding jury nullification the odds of a conviction just went down. Their only hope now is to make threats -- Just Like a School Yard Bully -- and hope people care, or trick people into a plea agreement.

In CA. when the feds do their paramilitary thing on a dispensary they rely on local law enforcement to help. Now, the feds are on their own without any help from the state tax payers police. The feds just do not have the resources to deal with this in their old ways. This is perfect timing to because the congress and Obama have their hands full with more important things.

Now the race is on too start a program, so as to start the elimination of the black market. If people can buy good, legal marijuana, why would they go sneaking around too buy illegal weed? It just doesn't make sense for people to not go legal. The one thing that people are not talking about is that it left all medical marijuana laws intact for patients. So the new law only enhances the laws that already existed for patients. 

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 11:09pm Permalink
Anon (not verified)

The real interesting thing will be how this will effect illegal states like Texas?  How will a Texas cop now treat a scene where a small amount of marijuana is the only crime, when WA and CO it is legal?  And ruin a kid's life in a down-falling economy, and hurt his/her chances at loans and employment. It seems to me the Feds realize the moral implications of this dilemma, and this is one of the reasons why the response is taking so long.  If Obama is looking to create his second term legacy, he has been handed marijuana legalization on a silver platter by WA and CO.  I bet he goes with with the more long-term more popular idea and supports reform.  We will see the beginning of Fed marijuana law reform by 2015.

Fri, 12/07/2012 - 1:01am Permalink
Justin Auldphart (not verified)

In reply to by Anon (not verified)

Sadly, I think the cop in Texas will do just what he might have done before the election...make the bust, get his overtime, get his gold star on the arrest stats and continue on his merry way...and my bet, too, is that towns bordering WA and CO will be out in force for a while shaking down "likely looking" drivers coming in from the legal states, until there is an outcry...

Sat, 12/08/2012 - 1:24pm Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

You have heard the confused ramblings out of Mexico.Imagine you are sitting in jail with all of your worldly possessions seized by the state or federal authorities hearing about this day.Or you have lost years of your life to drug courts and prisons.What was it all about?Is it actually grinding to a much needed and long overdue halt?Are they actually going to legalise cannabis and leave the other drugs prohibited so that the crime wave can continue?The exact reverse of what's going on in Europe?Anything is better than what was.It's just that it can be so much better.My fear is that with the removal of cannabis from the equation that the prohibition of the other substances might continue unabated for many more years.That can only lead to the influx of huge quantities of the remaining products available to the cartels who already have their pipelines set up.That is a terrible and very real possibility.There are,however still 48 states out there and some don't even allow the medical use of cannabis yet.Why doesn't that sound as hopeful as it should?

Fri, 12/07/2012 - 5:41am Permalink
Scooby (not verified)

In reply to by sicntired (not verified)

The cartels will most likely lower the cost of other drugs and ship in and sell huge quantities to make up for the other lost revenue....This will result in increased addiction. The US government could end all this tomorrow...that is if they actually gave a flying fuck about the people they serve !!!

Mon, 12/10/2012 - 7:25pm Permalink
RichardMartin (not verified)

An interesting read ..................

Sat, 12/08/2012 - 4:16am Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

In reply to by RichardMartin (not verified)

I read that same article last night.  Don't be surprised that there's some push-back being planned.  It was the most likely thing that the feds could do.  I think, politically though, they are being held back by all these polls coming out... in addition to many respected media outlets endorsing legalization.. articles by the Washington Post and the like... Obama doesn't want to start his second term by doing something that is going to piss off half the country, given that the MAJORITY of that half are the ones who just gave him the office of the presidency!  With the whole health care reform thing already being a huge controversy, and the fiscal cliff.. the last thing he needs on his plate is something like widespread outrage and possibly even protests in the streets i.e. in the 70s.

I expect, at this point, for the federal government to admonish the whole thing and make a "symbolic" stand against legalization, but not actually DO anything about it.

Sat, 12/08/2012 - 6:33pm Permalink

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