Washington state’s pot legalization takes effect; Justice Department statement hints at looming fight | SteamboatToday.com

Washington state’s pot legalization takes effect; Justice Department statement hints at looming fight

— Marijuana legalization became official in Washington state Thursday morning, prompting another warning from the U.S. Department of Justice about adherence to federal drug laws.

The following statement was released from the office of U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan in the Western District of Washington:

"The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State. The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on Dec. 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses."

Colorado's law to legalize marijuana is expected to take effect by Jan. 5.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler was expected to certify the November election results that day. Gov. John Hickenlooper then would have 30 days to make the law part of the Colorado Constitution.

Kevin Fisher, co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Remedies medical marijuana dispensary in Steamboat Springs, met with Colorado marijuana industry leaders Tuesday. Fisher said he thinks Hickenlooper will take the entire 30 days to make the law official.

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The Associated Press reported a spokesman for the governor said Thursday that there’s no date planned for Hickenlooper to make the declaration.

In Seattle, The Associated Press reported that partygoers were sparking up joints at midnight Thursday to ring in the new law at Seattle’s Space Needle. Similar celebrations were held in other parts of the city. Those smoking in public technically were breaking the new law, but Seattle Police Department officers were told not to enforce that aspect of the law until told to do so.

The Associated Press also reported that police were advising people not to consume marijuana in public.

"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," Seattle police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote.

Colorado and Washington are the first two states to approve marijuana legalization measures. Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalizes possession of as much as 1 ounce by adults 21 and older, passed statewide with 55 percent of the vote. Support was stronger in Routt County and Steamboat Springs, where the measure passed with 64 and 69 percent of the vote, respectively.

Despite the voter support, many on both sides of the issue are bracing for what could be a protracted legal battle with the federal government about states’ rights and federal drug-control policy.

Key points for Amendment 64

• Driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal.

• People must be at least 21 years old to purchase or possess marijuana.

• People will be allowed to possess as much as 1 ounce of marijuana.

• Marijuana will be labeled and subject to additional regulations from the state to ensure that consumers are "informed and protected."

• Consumption of marijuana in public is not allowed.

• People will be allowed to grow as many as six plants, three of which can be mature plants. No one will be allowed to sell marijuana without a license.

• People 21 or older won't be allowed to help people younger than 21 get marijuana.

• The state will regulate, among other things, security at shops and labeling and could impose restrictions on advertising.

• Colorado voters will decide later whether marijuana sales should be taxed.

• Local governments will be able to ban retail stores or limit the number of retail stores.

• Employers still will be able to enforce policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com