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Holcomb and Holmes answer I-502 questions.
When the clock strikes midnight, Washington will be the first state in the union to have legalized marijuana. But


Pot Becomes Legal at Midnight, But It Can Still Cost You... Read This Before You Puff

alison thumb.jpg
Holcomb and Holmes answer I-502 questions.
When the clock strikes midnight, Washington will be the first state in the union to have legalized marijuana. But before you take that celebratory public puff, know that the full effects of Initiative 502 and its licensing scheme won't be in place until December 1, 2013. That means a year of distribution limbo and other enforcement maladies. Luckily, Seattle Weekly is here to help navigate the New Approach to dealers, feds and the fines of recreational toking.

*See Also: A Friendly Reminder from the Feds: Pot Is Still Illegal Under Federal Law, Dude

Flanked by a map showcasing majority approval in 20 of Washington's 39 counties and a timeline of skyrocketing marijuana convictions that will now be a thing of the past, New Approach Washington Director Alison Holcomb and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes proudly discussed I-502's loud (57 percent) victory over years of prohibition in a Wednesday morning press conference.

"I-502 is a public safety measure," Holmes says. "It's good government by the people."

University of Washington professors Alexes Harris and Roger Roffman extolled the initiative's earmarked revenue streams for health and education. They stressed the need to treat chemical dependency as an illness, not a crime, and lauded the start of a better drug policy conversation.

UW's Roger Roffman urged parents to have a frank conversation with their kids about marijuana usage and recommended educational booklets from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Drug Policy Alliance.

But the room brimmed with much more practical questions about Washington new stance on cannabis. Where do I buy it? Where can I smoke it? The answers proved more complicated.

Of the state's three felony charges relating to cannabis--manufacturing, delivery and possession--only the latter becomes legal on December 6. Growing and distributing pot (including gift-giving) won't get the green light until the Washington State Liquor Control Board, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health agree on a licensing scheme to regulate the drug's production and sale--a year from now.

"We'll have to be patient," Holmes says. "This is not an industry that's going to go away quietly. It's going to require a concerted effort on the part of government and state law enforcement to make sure that the state license system can displace the illegal system that exists today."

In the meantime, the person buying and owning up to an ounce of marijuana can do so with the new-found confidence of a law-abiding citizen, but the person handing him that baggy still risks six months in the slammer and a $10,000 fine.

Holmes insisted that the absurdities of marijuana enforcement are nothing new: "How do we justify the allowance of medical marijuana patients when it remains illegal under federal law? It's the same question. There has been a disconnect for years. Under 502, at least we know when the end point is. It's a one-year transition period. Starting at midnight, we're at least not doing any more harm."

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes stressed the need for cooperation between the government and law enforcement during the state's transition to a licensed cannabis business model.

Others wondered if the imminent price hikes of a legalized product would keep current customers away from licensed outlets even after they're established.

"Given the choice, people will obey the law," Holcomb assures. "Legal businesses will compete and put illegal businesses out of business, the same way that we put the bootleggers out of business when we repealed [alcohol] prohibition."

Holmes and Holcomb also gave positive reassurances to those waiting for the federal drug enforcement boot to drop.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Holmes says, "but the federal government chose not to interfere in our campaign. I thought that was a very good sign. Since then there has been studied silence from the federal government and I think they are trying to determine what the next course is. My personal belief is that the federal government will find that 502 compliments, rather than contradicts federal law."

"We aren't treading on entirely fresh ground," Holcomb says. "California passed its medical marijuana law in 1996 so we've had 16 years of states diverging from federal law when it comes to marijuana. We hope that the federal government will take essentially the same policy position that it has in respect to medical marijuana--in that if people are in clear and unambiguous compliance with the state's law that's been decided by those voters, that federal law enforcement resources will not be spent targeting those individuals."

With commercial outlets in the works and encouraging inaction from the other Washington, Evergreen stoners have plenty to celebrate. But state sanctioned smoking is hardly a free for all. Though I-502's age restrictions and DUI provisions are modeled on alcohol standards, its rules on public consumption aren't. Boozing it up in bars is alright, but flaunting your blunt in plain public view constitutes a civil infraction. Tickets, to be doled out at the law enforcement officer's discretion, can add up to $100.

"Initiative 502 was not drafted as a celebration of marijuana use, but rather as recognition of the failure of marijuana policies," Holcomb says. "It replaces a failed prohibition model with a framework that emphasizes regulation, control, research and education."

All good things, but hardly a hedonistic party. So to the stoners hitting the streets tonight--remember to puff discretely, share pipes with caution (it's considered distribution) and don't delete your dealer's number just yet.

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I-502 won the voters' majority in 20 of Washington's 39 counties.

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