Public tokers to feds: Please bust us

The News TribuneDecember 7, 2012 

True to form, some weed heads hailed the arrival of legal marijuana Thursday by breaking the law that legalized it.

Initiative 502, which took effect Thursday, allows legal possession of up to an ounce of cannabis but forbids smoking it (or otherwise displaying) it in public. That didn’t slow down the crowds of jubilant tokers who jointly lit up in front of cameras in a public park – Seattle Center – the moment I-502 kicked in at midnight.

No surprise: Dope-smokers are not renowned for respecting drug laws. Nor are the Seattle’s City Council and its city attorney, Pete Holmes, whose attitudes reflect a marijuana-friendly city. Taking their cues from the top, the Seattle Police Department has announced it has no plans to issue the citations for the open-air consumption that is explicitly forbidden under I-502.

Seattle may be OK with public pot parties, but blowing smoke at the TV cameras does no favors to I-502 statewide.

If the in-your-face toking spreads beyond the 206 area code – and other large cities show as much indifference as Seattle – the initiative’s promises of discreet, private use will look hollow.

And the U.S. Justice Department is watching. Marijuana remains as illegal as heroin under federal law, and the feds are no doubt contemplating whether to stomp out the legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington.

Both states have libertarian political cultures; legal marijuana may make perfect sense to a majority of Washingtonians, but they would not be smart to project their own laissez faire attitudes on other regions, on Congress or on the very serious people inside the beltway.

The Obama administration has given only a single clue as to how it might deal with I-502. On Wednesday evening, just as the partiers were rolling their joints under the Space Needle, the U.S. Justice Department office down the street issued a warning:

“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.”

That didn’t shed any light on what the Justice Department was going to do about it, but it’s a safe bet that the U.S. attorney for Seattle, Jenny Durkan, didn’t join the midnight celebration after she left work.

The impromptu hempfests on Thursday were inevitable. It was too much to expect that some people accustomed to defying the old law wouldn’t immediately defy the new one. But a word to the wise and not-so-wise: Take the party inside.

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