Marijuana legalization
2:09 pm
Mon November 12, 2012

4 things to remember about possessing legal marijuana

Okay, on Dec. 6 we can legally have pot in our pockets. But there are still at least four things to consider when contemplating your first legal marijuana possession – not counting how or if the federal laws will be enforced.

No. 1

First and foremost, you’ll have to find someplace to get it and that remains an illegal activity outside of the current medical marijuana rules. Initiative 502 decriminalized possession but gives the state more than a year to come up with the system for distribution.

This disconnect between the right to have up to an ounce and yet no legal place to buy it has us wondering if that will result in a boon for black-market sales of marijuana.

How much of a boon will legal marijuana be to the black market, since you can possess it but not buy it legally?
Credit Johnny Vulkan / Flickr

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who was a sponsor of I-502, doesn’t think marijuana usage will go up. Even if some people who are pot-curious but never purchased it before try to get some, it would be tough for the black market to get much bigger than it already is.

“Right now it is the second largest cash crop in Washington. Youth access to marijuana is unprecedented – right now, existing under prohibition,” Holmes said. “It’s possible that people will be more open about it but just because they can legally possess it without a legal place to buy it, I don’t think is going to necessarily increase usage.”

How legal marijuana will affect the black market, has been a major point of contention. Foes of I-502 believe licensed state sellers and producers will not be able to undercut the price of the black market.

“The main purpose (of I-502) is to use, for the first time, economic weapons to undercut that black market,” Holmes said. “The only thing prohibition really accomplishes is to give the criminals a monopoly on supplying marijuana, so we want to take that monopoly away from them.”

Consequently, Holmes said, the pressure is on.

“The state absolutely has the right to decriminalize marijuana and that’s why that can take place in just less than 30 days,” Holmes said.

But the state needs the extra year to create rules and systems to make legal sales of marijuana a better deal either in terms of price or convenience than the black market, he added.

No. 2

Dear young college students and anyone under age 21, it’s still illegal to possess any amount and will remain that way.

If you get caught with it you could be referred to prosecutors, “just like if you were a minor in possession of alcohol,” according to the Seattle Police Department’s blog/FAQ on the new law.

No. 3

Another aspect of the new law you’ll want to think about before breaking out that baggie – it's illegal to have marijuana “on display” or visible in public.

A scene like this one (captured during this year's Hempfest in Seattle) would probably be considered on display.
Credit The Associated Press

“We don’t want people using it, displaying it, flashing it out in public, the same way you’re not allowed to walk around with an open container of alcohol,” Holmes said.

The SPD put it this way in its blog post “Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle”:

Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?

Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.

No. 4

Having more than 40 grams can still land you in prison.

“Presumptively under state law, it is assumed that someone in possession of greater than 40 grams has intent to distribute,” Holmes said.

And that’s a class C felony.

Along these lines, it's important to remember that while possession of 28 grams or less is legal on Dec. 6, possession of between 28 grams and 40 grams is still misdemeanor according to state law.

“But as a practical matter,” Holmes said. “I don’t think any officer is going to walk around with measuring scales to determine that.”

Video: The SPD added this video to its humorous and informative post on the new marijuana law: