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Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2012

For Washington state, legal pot — and now what?

December 6, 2012

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SEATTLE (ap) — 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 on 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 buy and 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 12 a.m. Thursday. 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!’”

Comments

del888 2 years ago

Wait til they try to get a job and can't pass the drug test. Almost all employers now require a drug test to get hired. My guesss is that the unemployment rate in Washington is going to go up.

kernal 2 years ago

"My guess is that the unemployment rate in Wasnington is going to go up." Maybe, or maybe not. It likely will depend on the type of job and the employer's work comp insurance coverage.

As long as they don't get high before work, or during the work day, I'd rather have an employee who smoked a joint the night before than someone who was out getting drunk the night before, shows up to work still drunk or too hungover to do the job.

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

It's been a long time since I cared about such stuff, but as I recall, tests cannot determine if you've smoked a joint two hours ago or two weeks ago. For those working in jobs that could reasonably require testing, things like drivers, operating heavy machinery, roofers, etc., those people would be putting their jobs at risk. Smoke a joint Friday night, after work, get tested Monday and then be out of work.

Kent Noble 2 years ago

What it boils down to. Is the Court Of Law in certain states are tried of someone coming into the court room, getting bust over a joint or a 1/4 ounce of marijuana. If they would just legalize it. It just might bring us out of this down economy. Our goverment could earn billions of taxes dollars off marijuana users. It's just like smoking, do at your own risk may cause heart disease ect!!!!!!

CHKNLTL 2 years ago

Hate to break it to you, mass production of marijuana already generates tax dollars. When growers buy supplies and pay utilities, pay property taxes, when dispensaries pay those same expenses, they are all paying taxes. And yes, it wastes those tax dollars when people get busted for a joint. Let's get rid of the DEA total condemnation of marijuana use.

Kathy Getto 2 years ago

"How do you ensure adults the freedom to use pot responsibly, or not so responsibly, while keeping it away from teenagers ."

How are cigarettes and alcohol regulated?

CHKNLTL 2 years ago

Cannabis was only outlawed to protect the nylon rope industry from hemp growers because hemp was a superior product and nylon wouldn't have been able to compete. There used to be laws in this country for legal production of drug grade cannabis. That being said, the only thing keeping it federally illegal is the push from Big Pharma because cannabis is a more effective alternative to hard painkillers that are addictive and profitable. If cannabis is ever completely legalized, across the board, we can count on super-companies like Monsanto to try and patent the DNA of the engineered plant in order to own the drug component of cannabis, as well as to create strains that cannot reproduce, the way they have done with all of our food, messing with the genetics. Just so many things to consider. And the least of these worries should be whether your waiter or whoever working wherever is high or not. Drunk people are way more dangerous, and pill poppers. LEGALIZE!

progressive_thinker 2 years ago

Drug testing results depend on the means of testing, and the amount of the drug used.

For routine urine testing, in the case of an occasional user, a pre-employment test is not as likely to be impacted. Because the occasional user would know when they are applying for a job, they could abstain for a few days and most of the metabolites would be out of their system. Note that the NIDA/SAMHSA standards applied to most urine drug tests actually have room for some of the metabolites to be present in the system of the person being tested. This is to give leeway for the person who might be subject to "passive exposure" to THC. Again, in the light and occasional user, the metabolites dissipate fairly quickly.

In the case of the regular, hardcore user, there have been studies where some of the metabolites that are detected by common urine testing equipment remains in their system for up to 30 days. Regular hardcore users will be less likely to produce a clean sample, unless they have been abstinent for at least 30 days.

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