The Wednesday press conference about the impending legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington state was threaded with repeated refedrences to “prohibition,” “social justice” and “the failed war on drugs.”
Held at the offices of ACLU of Washington State, one of the biggest donors toward the campaign to approve Initiative 502, the event was a time of careful smiles and breathless pronouncements.
“This is a historic moment and this was a historic campaign,” said Alison Holcomb, the ACLU’s Drug Policy Director who ran the I-502 campaign. “It prioritizes public health and safety over punishment and disenfranchisement.”
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another high-profile backer, said voters rejected the “prohibition” policies of the past and indicates the people of Washington want to turn away from “the war on drugs.”
“It has made us the number one jailer-nation on the planet, and it has made drug dealers very rich," he said.
Holmes also said there is a lot of uncertainty ahead for smokers, growers, police and prosecutors, as everyone struggles to figure out exactly how this law will be applied, and as the state watches to see if the federal government is going to intervene in some way.
“We are in uncharted territory. We are trying to substitute a legal, licensed system for what is nearly a totally illegal system. That’s going to take some time," Holmes said.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan reminded Washington that marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law: "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. 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."
But about the same time Durkan's statement was released, the Seattle Police Department announced that as of midnight, officers were being ordered "not take any enforcement action—other than to issue a verbal warning—for a violation of I-502.”
A post on SPD's website explained that this could be a temporary situation: "the Seattle Police Department is in the business of law enforcement and, as of today, the Revised Code of Washington or Seattle Municipal Code don’t contain anything that gives officers clear direction on how to deal with the provisions of I-502 prohibiting public use of marijuana. What’s more, it could take at least another 30 days for the state or city to craft legislation which would give officers the ability to cite not-so-courteous people for lighting up in public."
For the Executive Director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws) Washington, Thursday is a day for celebration and relaxation. This is a big victory for the organization, which has been pushing for this kind of change for more than 40 years, and Kevin Oliver said it’s time to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.
“Personally I’ve been working so close to this with so many people that have just been making huge waves, and now we’re just surfing it into the beach and I just want to relax," Oliver said.
At the same time, Oliver admits there is much more work to do: “The whole country is looking at us, indeed the whole world.”
After midnight tonight Wednesday, it will be legal in Washington to possess an ounce of marijuana (more if the marijuana is infused in food products) and to smoke it in private.
Oliver predicted private clubs would be established where people can get together, buy memberships, and smoke together.