You can smoke a joint, but you can’t buy one

Staff writerDecember 6, 2012 

If you’re an adult and want to smoke a bowl of marijuana while you stare into your fireplace tonight, you’re completely within your legal rights to do so.

As of 12:01 this morning, marijuana possession no longer is a crime in Washington, a historic change made possible Nov. 6 when 56 percent of voters approved Initiative 502.

However, the legal landscape is still fogged with uncertainties and contradictions – beginning with the fact that marijuana still is prohibited under federal law.

Until the state Liquor Control Board comes up with a framework for regulating Washington’s new cannabis industry, there’s no legal place to get marijuana, unless you’re an authorized medical marijuana patient. Washington’s first marijuana stores won’t open for at least a year.

Growing marijuana, selling marijuana and even giving it away for free, still are illegal.

For those contemplating the first legal toke in their lifetimes but who might be a little nervous about it, here’s a primer on what’s allowed and what’s not:

Can I smoke in public?

No. The marijuana law is modeled on alcohol laws, so the same sort of restrictions apply as to drinking in public. Basically, if you’re in plain public view, you’re breaking the law. Smoking in public is a civil infraction, which means you can be fined but not arrested.

Can I grow my own?

Not unless you’re an authorized medical marijuana patient or a patient’s authorized provider.

Is it against the law to buy marijuana?

No. In fact, strictly speaking, buying it never has been against the law. What’s been illegal is possession.

Is it illegal to sell marijuana?

Yes. That’s still a felony. When the state system is up and running, you’ll be able to buy marijuana and marijuana products at a limited number of state-licensed stores.

How about giving it away? Is that legal?

No. Giving it away amounts to delivery, and, like selling, that remains a felony.

How much marijuana is it legal to have?

One ounce of “useable” marijuana, one pound of marijuana-laced food (brownies, for example) and 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids.

I have a friend who’s a medical marijuana patient. Can I get some from him?

He’s committing a felony if he gives or sells it to you.

What happens if you’re younger than 21 and get caught with it?

Possession of any amount is still illegal for anyone younger than 21.

What if your employer has a no-marijuana policy? Do those rules go away, too?

No. The new law did not change state employment law. Your employer can still require a drug-free workplace.

What are the rules for smoking and driving?

The new driving-under-the-influence provisions are now in effect. They set a threshold for marijuana intoxication similar to the 0.08 cutoff for alcohol, except it requires a blood test.

If your blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active TCH per milliliter, you’ll be guilty of DUI. Police will need to have probable cause that you’re impaired before requiring a test.

How is the federal government going to respond to this?

That’s what everyone’s waiting to find out.

In a statement released Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said the Department of Justice is “reviewing” the legalization initiatives passed here and in Colorado.

“The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” Durkan said. “Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.”

Durkan also said this: “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.”

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 rob.carson@ thenewstribune.com

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