Marijuana goes legal in Washington state amid mixed messages

Thu Dec 6, 2012 3:51pm EST
 
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By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state made history on Thursday as the first in the nation to legalize 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 now.

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 legalize pot for personal recreational use but that measure is not due to come into effect until next month. Both states are among 18 that have already removed criminal sanctions for medical use of marijuana.

The Washington law legalizes 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 form.

However, driving under the influence of cannabis, or imbibing in public places where the consumption of alcohol is already banned, remain illegal.   Continued...

 
Marijuana is seen in the hand of a person after the law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana went into effect in Seattle, Washington December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Cliff Despeaux