For years, police, neighborhood activists and property owners fought what they saw as an open-air drug market at 23rd and Union. Soon, with the passage of I-502, you might be able to drop by the corner for a legal bag of weed to go with your liquor. Maybe.
There is a long road ahead of the state in the next year, which is how long the Washington Liquor (and Cannabis?) Control Board plans to take in order to craft the rules for growing and selling marijuana for recreational use. Existing medical marijuana laws are unchanged by the new law. Before the Board can decide to allow liquor stores to sell pot (if that’s the direction they go), the state and the federal government will need to work around their differences (marijuana is still illegal under federal law).
However that process works out, one provision kicks in December 6: Possession of an ounce or less is no longer illegal unless you run into a federal officer. Since rates of marijuana-related incarceration disproportionately affect people of color, many law backers presented the initiative as a social justice issue. For example, if police search someone and fail to find evidence they were looking for, they can no longer arrest them for the bag of weed in their pocket.
Sale and production of marijuana outside the existing medical marijuana law remains illegal, and smoking in public could get you a ticket similar to tickets for drinking in public.
The people have spoken. Voters have passed Initiative 502 and beginning December 6th, it is not a violation of state law for adults over 21 years old to possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, like cookies, or 72 ounces of infused liquid, like oil) for personal use. The initiative establishes a one-year period for the state to develop rules and a licensing system for the marijuana production and sale.
Marijuana has existed in a grey area in Seattle for some time now. Despite a longstanding national prohibition on marijuana, minor marijuana possession has been the lowest enforcement priority for the Seattle Police Department since Seattle voters passed Initiative 75 in 2003. Officers don’t like grey areas in the law. I-502 now gives them more clarity.
Marijuana legalization creates some challenges for the Seattle Police Department, but SPD is already working to respond to these issues head on, by doing things like reviewing SPD’s hiring practices for police officers to address now-legal marijuana usage by prospective officers, as well as current employees.
While I-502 has decriminalized marijuana possession in Washington, the new state law does not change federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. All Seattle Police officers have taken an oath to uphold not only state law, but federal law as well. However, SPD officers will follow state law, and will no longer make arrests for marijuana possession as defined under I-502.
The Seattle Police Department and Mayor Mike McGinn have already begun working with state officials to navigate this conflict, and follow the direction of Washington voters to legalize marijuana.
In the meantime, the Seattle Police Department will continue to enforce laws against unlicensed sale or production of marijuana, and regulations against driving under the influence of marijuana, which remain illegal.
Here’s a practical guide for what the Seattle Police Department believes I-502 means for you, beginning December 6th, based on the department’s current understanding of the initiative Please keep in mind that this is all subject to ongoing state and local review, and that it describes the view of the Seattle Police Department only. All marijuana possession and sale remains illegal under federal law, and Seattle Police cannot predict or control the enforcement activities of federal authorities.
Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?
According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Please note that the initiative says it “is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana…in view of the general public,” so there’s that. Also, you probably shouldn’t bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property).
Well, where can I legally buy pot, then?
The Washington State Liquor Control Board is working to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. The WSLCB has until December 1, 2013 to finalize those rules. In the meantime, production and distribution of non-medical marijuana remains illegal.
Does I-502 affect current medical marijuana laws?
No, medical marijuana laws in Washington remain the same as they were before I-502 passed.
Can I grow marijuana in my home and sell it to my friends, family, and co-workers?
Not right now. In the future, under state law, you may be able to get a license to grow or sell marijuana.
Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.
Will police officers be able to smoke marijuana?
As of right now, no. This is still a very complicated issue.
If I apply for a job at the Seattle Police Department, will past (or current) marijuana use be held against me? The current standard for applicants is that they have not used marijuana in the previous three years. In light of I-502, the department will consult with the City Attorney and the State Attorney General to see if and how that standard may be revised.
What happens if I get pulled over and an officer thinks I’ve been smoking pot?
If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.
What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?
Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.
SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?
Will SPD assist federal law enforcement in investigations of marijuana users or marijuana-related businesses, that are allowed under I-502?
No. Officers and detectives will not participate in an investigation of anything that’s not prohibited by state law.
December 6th seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then? Hold your breath. Your case will be processed under current state law. However, there is already a city ordinance making marijuana enforcement the lowest law enforcement priority.
I’m under 21. What happens if I get caught smoking pot?
It’s a violation of state law. It may referred to prosecutors, just like if you were a minor in possession of alcohol.