Five Things You Should Know About Washington’s New Marijuana Law

Following the approval of Initiative 502 at the polls last year, it became legal on Dec. 6, 2012 for a person to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use in the state of Washington. While this makes Washington (along with Colorado, where a similar measure also passed) very progressive in terms of marijuana laws, it doesn’t allow a free-for-all. As Colorado’s governor expressed it after the vote: “Don’t break out the Cheetos or the Goldfish too quickly.”

As Washington’s law is slowly rolled out in 2013, the Perey Law Group brings you five important things you should know about it:

1. There is currently no legal way to purchase marijuana for non-medicinal purposes.

The law intends to heavily regulate and tax marijuana much like alcohol, but these provisions have not yet been established. The state has until Dec. 1, 2013 to enact rules for the sale and distribution of marijuana. Private drug sales remain illegal. They are not regulated the way the state intends marijuana sales to be regulated under the new law.

The Seattle Police Department has created a webpage outlining the law and the department’s approach here. While possession of up to one ounce is now legal, the department will continue to enforce other marijuana-related laws. From the website:

“…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.”

2. Marijuana use is still illegal in public.

Just as you can be cited for walking down a public sidewalk drinking alcohol, you can be cited if caught smoking marijuana in public. It’s even a citation-worthy offense to open up a bag of marijuana in public. Additionally, if smoking tobacco is forbidden in a certain area, it is also forbidden to smoke a joint there.

3. Don’t drive while high.

We hope this goes without saying. Intoxicated driving is dangerous and potentially deadly to yourself, your passengers and everyone else on the road. Laws forbidding driving under the influence of drugs will remain in place and be enforced just as they were before the new law was passed.

4. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

While President Obama has said the federal government has “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting marijuana offenses, the Justice Department has said it will continue to prosecute large-scale growers and distributors in Washington. While Seattle police will focus on enforcing state law, not federal law, a federal official would be within his or her authority to charge you with a federal marijuana-related offense, even if state law allows it. So, as Seattle police say on their website, don’t be a fool and bring marijuana with you into the federal courthouse — or any other federal property, for that matter.

5. Marijuana use is only legal for those 21 and older.

Even when the law is rolled out in full at the end of 2013, no one under the age of 21 will legally be able to smoke marijuana. Much like alcohol laws, it will likewise be illegal to provide marijuana to an underage person.

Educate Yourself

You can find the entire text of the law here. Understanding not only I-502 but all laws on the books where you live is important to our society. Our laws should be discussed, analyzed and criticized. That’s not just for lawyers like us. It’s a part of democracy.

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