Dec. 6 in Seattle, hundreds of marijuana users toked up under the Space Needle in Seattle Center as the nation’s first recreational marijuana law took effect. In a New Year’s style countdown, the crowd of marijuana users lit up after the stroke of midnight.
Nov. 6, voters in both Washington and Colorado approved constitutional amendments legalizing marijuana for recreational use by those 21 years old and better. The Colorado law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 5. That makes Washington the first state ever to legalize the drug for general consumption.
Smoking in public is still illegal under Washington law. It will be treated similarly to public intoxication, which is punishable by fine. The police, however, weren’t handing out any tickets that night and the mood was festive.
“I feel like a kid in a candy store!” shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman per The Associated Press. “It’s all becoming real now!”
Both the Washington and Colorado amendments call for setting up state licensed production of marijuana. Marijuana will be taxed 25 percent at each stage of production and distribution: growth, processing and retail. Analysts predict hundreds of millions in new tax revenues a year.
Both amendments allow for the personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (28.5 grams). Colorado’s permits the personal cultivation of up to six plants. Home-grown cannabis is still prohibited in Washington.
Despite the jubilation and solidly black bottom line, there is still a significant obstacle to legalization: Marijuana is still prohibited under federal law. How the U.S. Department of Justice will proceed remains uncertain.
“The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State”, said the Washington U.S. Attorney’s office in a statement, Dec. 5. “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 December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”