SEATTLE (AP) - Legal marijuana possession becomes a reality in Washington state Thursday, and some people plan to celebrate the new law by breaking it.
Voters in Washington and Colorado last month made those the first states to decriminalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana. Washington's law takes effect Thursday and allows adults to have up to an ounce of pot - but it bans public use of marijuana, which is punishable by a fine, just like drinking in public.
Nevertheless, some people planned to gather at 12 a.m. Thursday to smoke up beneath Seattle's Space Needle. Others planned to party outside Hempfest headquarters in Seattle.
Seattle Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb doesn't expect officers to write many tickets. Thanks to a 2003 law, marijuana enforcement remains the department's lowest priority.
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Seattle police address new Wash. marijuana law SEATTLE (AP) - With marijuana possession now legal in Washington state, the Seattle Police Department has given its officers some guidance on what to do about public use of pot, which is still banned. In an email to officers, the department told them they should only issue verbal warnings in cases of public marijuana use "until further notice." Police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter that officers will be advising people to take their weed inside. Or as Spangenthal-Lee put it: "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." Voters in Washington and Colorado last month made those the first states to decriminalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana. Washington's law takes effect Thursday and allows adults to have up to an ounce of pot.
STORY BY JIM CAMDEN AT THE SPOKESMAN: When the clock ticks past midnight tonight, Washington will have the most permissive law in the nation regarding marijuana, thanks to voters who approved Initiative 502.
But the new law isn't a blanket license for anyone to smoke marijuana anywhere, anytime. There are restrictions within the law, and some items that must still be settled, either by state agencies or the courts. Here are some answers to common questions about what changes in state marijuana laws Thursday.
Q. Can I legally have marijuana?
A. If you are under 21, no, just like alcohol. Over 21, yes, with some notable exceptions. If you live or work in a place that has federal legal restrictions on drugs, state law doesn't override those restrictions.
Q. Is there a limit to how much I can have?
A. For adults the limit is 1 ounce per person. It is also legal to have up to 16 ounces of a marijuana-infused product, such as baked goods with the drug cooked into it. Above an ounce, current laws apply, so having up to 40 grams – slightly less than an ounce and a half – is a misdemeanor, and having more than 40 grams is a Class C felony. A minor with an ounce or less can be cited for a civil infraction; for other amounts, the law is the same as for an adult. Mary Muramatsu, an assistant Spokane city prosecutor, said there will be a zero-tolerance policy for minors with marijuana.
Q. OK, I'm an adult. Can I smoke marijuana anywhere?
A. No. You cannot smoke (or otherwise consume) marijuana in a public place, which would include parks, stores, restaurants, malls and sidewalks. You can smoke in your private residence or someone else's if they don't object.
Q. That could be a problem because my spouse and most of my friends don't allow smoking in the house. Can I go outside and smoke?
A. Maybe. In a home you have "a reasonable expectation of privacy," Spokane City Attorney Nancy Isserlis said. But if you're smoking on the front porch and your house is on a busy street, it could be a problem. "There are some nuances to the law that have to be worked out," she said.
Q. Can I drive while smoking marijuana?
A. Bad idea. Having a lit marijuana cigarette while driving is a civil infraction, akin to having an open container of alcohol in the car, even if you aren't impaired. Just like there's a legal limit for your blood-alcohol content, starting Thursday there is a limit for the amount of active cannabis agent in your bloodstream. It's 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and some critics of the law say that's very low for regular users. Go over and it's an automatic ticket for driving under the influence.
Q. How will that be measured?
A. It requires a blood test.
Q. So police will do blood draws on the side of the road?
A. No. If they suspect you of being under the influence – a Washington State Patroltrooper might call a drug recognition expert if one is available – you will be informed of the state's "implied consent" law and asked to take a blood test at a local medical facility. Refusing a blood test will be like refusing a breath test for alcohol consumption: You could lose your license through an administrative procedure, and the fact that you refused could be introduced as evidence if you try to fight the DUI charge in court.
Q. From whom may I legally buy marijuana?
A. Short answer: No one right now. Long explanation: The law says the state Liquor Control Board will set up a system to regulate and tax the growing, processing and distribution of marijuana. But the state has until next December to do that. In the meantime, WSP troopers and other officers are directed that growing or selling any amount is still a crime.
Q. Can I buy it legally from a medical marijuana dispensary?
A. Only if you have a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana for a medical problem. State laws for medical marijuana, which have different limits for possession of the drug and their own legal problems with production and sale, don't change on Thursday. Neither does the conflict between state and federal laws over marijuana. If anything, that gets more complicated.