The Space Needle was not all that lit up the Seattle skyline last night.
Hundreds of people gathered below Seattle's iconic landmark to count down to midnight when a new state measure allowing the recreational use of marijuana would go into effect Thursday. Initiative 502 legalizing Marijuana handily won on Election Day by ten points. The law grants users over the age 21 the right to possess one ounce or less of marijuana. Voters in Colorado approved a similar measure that goes into effect on Jan. 5.
In anticipation of the law change, the Seattle Police Department advised its over 1,300 officers to only issue a verbal warning against residents who take a puff in public, saying that officers "shall not take any enforcement action."
"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," spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter.
Local law enforcement officials have maintained a light-hearted and almost cheeky public line on the sudden shift on drug laws. Prior to the law's enactment, police officers from the Seattle area outlined an informational "Marijwhatnow?" how-to guide on legal usage in the state, full of snarky remedies ("What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?" they ask).
But the legality of the law becomes increasingly hazy in the context of federal laws that deem marijuana an illegal substance. The Justice Department has continued to reinforce that marijuana is classified as illegal under the Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress, but it has not addressed how it will move forward with enforcing clear contradictions between local and federal laws.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Gen. Jenny Durkan of Seattle said in a statement Wednesday.
“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," she said.