Tuesday December 1st, 2015 4:59PM

Smokers celebrate as Wash. legalizes marijuana

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
SEATTLE (AP) -- The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle's Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.

Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.

A few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news cameras.

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

Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.

Technically, Washington's new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren't about to write them any tickets.

In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at the King County auditor's office early Thursday.

King County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors' offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted to be among the first to get their licenses.

Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Hours later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of "Going to the Chapel."

Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.

In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.

Officers will be advising 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!'"

"This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."

Washington's new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce for those over 21, but for now selling marijuana remains illegal. I-502 gives the state a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage. Analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools, health care and basic government functions.

But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it's banned from federal properties, including military bases and national parks.

The Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in Washington and Colorado from taking effect.

"The department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Seattle U.S. attorney's office. "Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress" - a non-issue, since the measures passed in Washington and Colorado don't "nullify" federal law, which federal agents remain free to enforce.

The legal question is whether the establishment of a regulated marijuana market would "frustrate the purpose" of the federal pot prohibition, and many constitutional law scholars say it very likely would.

That leaves the political question of whether the administration wants to try to block the regulatory system, even though it would remain legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

Alison Holcomb is the drug policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and served as the campaign manager for New Approach Washington, which led the legalization drive. She said the voters clearly showed they're done with marijuana prohibition.

"New Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented," she said.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Doctors: Blood clot located in Clinton's head
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton developed a blood clot in her head but did not suffer a stroke or neurological damage, her doctors said Monday. They say they are confident that she will make a full recovery.
3:55PM ( 2 years ago )
Illinois Sen. Kirk to return a year after stroke
Nearly a year after a stroke left him barely able to move the left side of his body, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is expected to climb the 45 steps to the Senate's front door this week - a walk that's significant not just for Illinois' junior senator, but also for medical researchers and hundreds of thousands of stroke patients.
3:54PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Couch names administrative team
Ahead of his scheduled swearing in Friday, Hall County Sheriff-elect Gerald Couch named his top administrative team Monday.
6:28PM ( 2 years ago )
Tech beats Southern California in Sun Bowl
Tevin Washington threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score to help Georgia Tech beat Southern California 21-7 on Monday in the Sun Bowl.
5:54PM ( 2 years ago )
Hall Co. officials launch health-based initiative for employees
Hall County officials believe healthy county employees will be of greater service to the county. With that in mind, they have created a health-based fitness initiative to provide free fitness training for county workers.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Ga. ethics legislation could end free tickets
General Assembly approval next year of a proposed ethics reform measure could endanger an important fall tradition for Georgia lawmakers - free football tickets.
6:26PM ( 2 years ago )
Abortion restrictions, tax changes loom in Ga.
Tax breaks for manufacturers and higher unemployment taxes for employers take effect with the new year in Georgia, but it remains to be seen whether the state's newest abortion restrictions will be enforced.
6:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Budget battle sends mixed signals on health care
Confused about the federal budget struggle? So are doctors, hospital administrators and other medical professionals who serve the 100 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
6:20PM ( 2 years ago )
White House offers governors info on refugees in their states after Syrian migrants uproar
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is proposing to offer governors individualized reports about refugees in their states.White House chief of staff Denis McDonough says in letters to all 50 governors t...
9:08PM ( 19 hours ago )
Standoff at Planned Parenthood ends with suspect's arrest; 3 killed, 9 wounded
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A gunman who opened fire inside a Planned Parenthood clinic was arrested Friday after engaging in gun battles with authorities during an hourslong standoff that killed t...
1:13AM ( 3 days ago )
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 4 days ago )
Obama grants reprieve to turkeys 'Honest' and 'Abe' during White House ceremony
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spared two turkeys named for one of the nation's most admired presidents, continuing a White House tradition that provides a refreshing sense of amusement and...
9:18PM ( 5 days ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 1 week ago )