Marijuana goes legal in Washington state amid mixed messages

Fri Dec 7, 2012 2:44am EST
 
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By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Hundreds of marijuana enthusiasts huddled near Seattle's famed Space Needle tower on Thursday night with pipes, bongs and hand-rolled joints to celebrate Washington's new status as the first state in the nation to legalize pot for adult recreational use.

The public gathering at the downtown Seattle Center, like a smaller turnout at a nearby spot hours earlier, defied a key provision of the state's landmark marijuana law, which allows possession of small amounts of cannabis but forbids users from lighting up outside the privacy of their homes.

Police kept their distance from both gatherings, underscoring mixed law enforcement messages about the new statute, known by its ballot designation as Initiative 502. The measure took effect on Thursday.

Seattle's city attorney issued a stern warning on Wednesday that public pot puffing would not be tolerated and that violators faced citations with $100 fines.

But the Seattle Police Department said its officers had been directed to limit any enforcement actions related to Initiative 502 to verbal warnings only, 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 likewise chose to legalize 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 also legalizes possession of up to 16 ounces (0.45 kg) of solid cannabis-infused goods - such as brownies - and up to 72 ounces (2.4 kg) of weed in liquid form.   Continued...

 
Wearing items representative of the state's historic events, Desiree Moore, a 20-year marijuana activist, takes a sip of her coffee at a marijuana smoke out event in Seattle, Washington December 6, 2012. Hundreds of marijuana enthusiasts huddled near Seattle's famed Space Needle tower on Thursday night with pipes, bongs and hand-rolled joints to celebrate Washington's new status as the first state in the nation to legalize pot for adult recreational use. REUTERS/Jordan Stead