The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

December 6, 2012

For Washington state, legal pot - and now what?

SEATTLE — People openly lit joints under the Space Needle and on Seattle's sidewalks — then blew the smoke at TV news cameras. To those looking to "get baked," the city's police department suggested pizza and a "Lord of the Rings" movie marathon.

What, exactly, is going on in Washington state?

Marijuana possession became legal under state law Thursday, the day a measure approved by voters to regulate marijuana like alcohol took effect. It prompted midnight celebrations from pot activists who say the war on drugs has failed.

But as the dawn of legalization arrives, Washington and Colorado, where a similar law passed last month, now face some genuinely complicated dilemmas: How on Earth do you go about creating a functioning, legal weed market? How do you ensure adults the freedom to use pot responsibly, or not so responsibly, while keeping it away from teenagers?

And perhaps most pressingly, will the Justice Department just stand by while the states issue licenses to the growers, processors and sellers of a substance that, under federal law, remains very much illegal?

"We're building this from the ground all the way up," said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Control Board, which is charged with regulating the drug. "The initiative didn't just wave a magic wand and make everybody here an expert on marijuana."

The measures approved Nov. 6 have two main facets. First, they OK the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults over 21. That took effect Thursday in Washington, though it remains illegal — for now — to sell pot, so people have to keep getting it from the marijuana fairy.

In Colorado, where pot fans will also be able to grow their own plants, the law takes effect by Jan. 5.

The other part of the measures, the regulatory schemes, are trickier. Washington's Liquor Control Board, which has been regulating alcohol for 78 years, has a year to adopt rules for the fledgling pot industry: How many growers, processors and stores should there be in each county? Should there be limits on potency? How should the pot be inspected, packaged and labeled?

To help answer those questions, officials will turn to experts in the field — including police, public policy experts and some of the state's many purveyors of medical marijuana. Smith anticipates undercover monitoring operations to make sure the private, state-licensed stores aren't selling to minors.

With legalization, officials need to look at some of the measures that have been shown to reduce teen drinking, said Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention. That includes public education about the risks of pot use and driving while stoned, emphasize patrols to look for stoned drivers, and encouraging cities to adopt laws that hold parents accountable if they host parties at which kids are provided marijuana.

"We're really going to need to get all hands on deck to sort through this," he said.

The marijuana will be taxed heavily, with revenues possibly reaching hundreds of millions of dollars a year for schools, health care, basic government services and substance abuse prevention.

Unless, of course, the Justice Department has something to say about it.

Few people question the states' ability to simply remove all penalties under their own laws for marijuana. The federal government would remain free to raid state-licensed growers or stores and prosecute those involved in federal court, just as they remain free to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws.

Whether a state can regulate an illegal substance is another question. Many constitutional law scholars say the answer is no: Washington and Colorado's regulatory schemes obviously conflict with marijuana's prohibition in the federal Controlled Substances Act, and when state and federal laws conflict, the feds win out, they say.

So the Justice Department could likely sue to block the regulatory schemes. But will it? What's better, from the administration's perspective — an ounce of weed legalized with regulation or an ounce of weed legalized with no oversight?

The department has given no hints about its plans.

While pot fans wait for an answer, they are partying. Though Washington's law prohibits smoking in public, about 200 gathered under the Space Needle for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to midnight. A few dozen gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters.

"I feel like a kid in a candy store!" shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. "It's all becoming real now!"

The Seattle Police Department emailed its 1,300 officers, telling them not to write any citations for smoking pot in public until further notice. A voter initiative passed in 2003 made marijuana enforcement the department's lowest priority, and for years officers have looked the other way while thousands light up at Hempfest.

Officers will nevertheless advise people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter. "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."

He offered a catchy new directive referring to the film "The Big Lebowski," popular with many marijuana fans: "The Dude abides, and says 'take it inside!'"

___

Gene Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 19, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 19, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 19, 2014

  • VIDEO | Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 19, 2014

  • Denne, Williams & Stanton Records hearing scheduled

    A Cambria County judge will consider complaints filed by two Johnstown residents seeking documents related to the city’s municipal waste water operation at hearing at the end of this month.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sen. Bob Casey Casey targets heroin

    The heroin trade has brought addiction, death, violence and theft to Johnstown and other Pennsylvania communities.
    Figuring out how to deal with those issues is difficult for local, state and federal officials.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drive-in to open with high-tech projector

    Drive-in movie theaters and the term “state of the art” seldom share the same sentence.
    But that will soon be the case for the Silver Drive-In, it’s owner said. The Scalp Avenue site, often marketed as a nostalgic summer night escape, soon will boast a high-end projector capable of displaying the latest and greatest blockbusters in razor sharp high-definition, theater owner Rick Rosco said.

    April 18, 2014

  • Sheetz work underway

    Earthmoving is underway at Richland Town Centre for a nearly 6,500-square-foot Sheetz store.
    And the real estate broker marketing the land says a 3,000-square-foot retail building will be built next door.

    April 18, 2014

  • Smith, Shakir Mosi Police seize heroin, money in Prospect

    Johnstown police reported that several bricks of heroin, along with $4,000 in cash and a handgun, were discovered in the city's Prospect neighborhood around 4 a.m. Friday. An arrest warrant has been issued for the man be­lieved to be the owner or renter of the two homes raided.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Comedy night targets serious problem

    Animal advocates are using comedy to take aim at a serious problem.
    The third annual Funny Fundraiser to benefit the Nardecchia Spay and Neuter Fund will be held at 8 p.m. May 16 at Ace’s, 316 Chestnut St. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.

    April 18, 2014

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads