Washington voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday, giving a solid majority to Initiative 502 and rejecting a cultural taboo that had been in place for generations.
Washington and Colorado, which passed a similar law Tuesday, are about to become the only places in the world with government-sanctioned systems for growing and distributing marijuana for recreational use.
At the I-502 election night party in Seattle, supporters and longtime veterans of the pot war seemed to need to pinch themselves to believe what happened.
“Ten years ago, you couldn’t even talk publicly about this,” said travel entrepreneur Rick Steves, one of the campaign’s biggest contributors. “Now the whole country is going to wake up to it.”
The change is so radical and so many uncertainties remain, it leaves the state like Wile E. Coyote in the “Looney Tunes” cartoons trying to catch Road Runner, momentarily suspended in midair, legs still churning, after speeding over a cliff.
Nobody has all the answers at this point, but here are some basics:
Is marijuana possession legal now?
Yes and no.
As of Dec. 6, when election results are certified, adults 21 and over in Washington no longer can be arrested under state law for possessing limited amounts of marijuana.
Pot still is illegal under federal law, however; so don’t cruise into Joint Base Lewis-McChord or Mount Rainier National Park with an ounce bag on your dash.
But public use is still prohibited.
Can’t the Legislature just repeal the new law or change it?
That’s possible, but unlikely, at least for two years.
Under state law, a two-thirds “supermajority” in the Legislature is required to change or repeal an initiative the first two years after passage. After that, the Legislature can make changes or repeal the law with a simple majority. Politicians tend to be wary of changing laws passed by a majority vote of the people.
How much marijuana will adults be able to have?
One ounce of “useable” marijuana, a pound of marijuana-laced food (brownies, for example) and 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids.
Can I grow my own?
No, not unless you’re a medical marijuana patient or authorized provider.
When will marijuana stores open?
Most likely not before 2014.
What happens next is, the State Liquor Control Board – assisted by the state departments of Agriculture and Health – will make rules that define an entire new system for growing, processing and selling. The board’s deadline for rulemaking is Dec. 1, 2013. Then license applications will be accepted for growing, processing and selling.
Where will the stores be located and how many will there be?
They’ll be stand-alone businesses with restrictions similar to the old state liquor stores – at least 1,000 feet from schools and parks. The number will be determined during rulemaking.
If the stores aren’t going to open for more than a year, where are we supposed to get our legal ounce in the meantime?
As things now stand, there is no legal way to get marijuana in Washington state unless you’re a medical marijuana patient. Selling pot remains a felony.
Federal law trumps state law. Won’t the feds just step in and put an end to this whole thing?
That’s the million-dollar question. I-502 supporters are relieved that Barack Obama won the presidency instead of Mitt Romney, assuming his administration will be more lenient.
Still, the federal Justice Department’s job is to enforce federal law, so an immediate injunction is a possibility. Supporters are encouraged by the fact that the feds have not moved to strike down any of the states’ medical marijuana laws.
When do the new DUI provisions for drugged driving take effect, and how will they work?
The provisions take effect Dec. 6, the same as the possession provision. The new law sets a threshold for marijuana intoxication similar to the 0.08 cutoff for alcohol, except it requires a blood test.
If your blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active TCH per milliliter, you’ll be guilty of DUI. Police will need to have probable cause that you’re impaired before requiring a test.
What’s going to happen to existing medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens?
The new law doesn’t change the existing medical marijuana law. However, the gold rush for medical marijuana businesses might be over.
It stands to reason that fewer people will bother with medical authorizations when possession is legal for all adults. Some predict most dispensaries will go under. Others say their expertise and the fact they can sell larger amounts will keep at least some in business.
Can my employer still drug test me and fire me for having marijuana in my system?
The new law does not change state employment law, which allows for drug testing and firings.
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693