Going to Washington State to Toke Legally? Here’s What You Need to Know

Canna-tourism, Part 1 of a 2 part series on cannabis in Washington State
So you’ve probably heard that Washington State has legalized cannabis.  Perhaps you are even thinking about taking a trip to sample some “legal weed” in the greatest city in the world, Seattle.  While the Emerald City is home to some of the finest cannabis in the United States – some may argue the best in the world – there are a few things you need to know to keep yourself safe before you pack your bags for that magical vacation to the Evergreen state.

Photo: Green Ambrosia/Tyler J. Markwart

Photo: Green Ambrosia/Tyler J. Markwart

HOW THE LAW WORKS

While media outlets and social networking continues to say cannabis is “legalized” in Washington State, it’s not quite that simple.  In fact, people in Washington State are still getting arrested for growing and possession of cannabis every day. Cannabis is not actually a “legal” substance for all people to access here in Washington State; it is considered a regulated substance similar to alcohol.

So what exactly does this mean?

The wording of I-502, the ballot initiative that “legalized” marijuana in Washington State, did not remove any of the laws on the books that make cannabis an illegal substance, specifically those laws listed in the Washington State Controlled Substance Act.  I-502 did create more legislation that says it is not a violation of the Controlled Substance Act for adults 21 and up to posses up to 40 grams of dried cannabis flowers and up to 72 ounces of infused products.  You might be saying to yourself, well that’s pretty freak’n awesome! And while it does sound appealing, there are some major problems and restrictions associated with the law.

Possession of cannabis by minors under the age of 21 can lead to an arrest and a possible criminal record, resulting in reduced potential for future opportunities because of a criminal record for drug possession.

Adults who are 21 and over and who are in possession of over the 40 grams or 72 ounce infused allotments are considered criminals and face felony possession/distribution charges if arrested and prosecuted.

The Washington State law also does not apply to federal parklands, buildings, boats, or any property related to the federal government.  You can still be arrested for possession of even a joint on federal property, and being slapped with a federal drug charge is likely to haunt you for the rest of your life.

If you are caught smoking in public in Washington State, police can write you a ticket similar to having an open container for alcohol; if you’re being a jerk about it, they can arrest you for being a public nuisance.  The city of Seattle does have a separate city code that says cannabis is the lowest priority for the Seattle Police Department, but blowing blunt hits into a cop’s face will probably won’t get you a high-five.

OBTAINING “LEGAL CANNABIS”

Now that we’ve sorted out the amount of marijuana you can be safe with while traveling around Washington State, how are you going to go about acquiring this “legal cannabis” when you get here?

The Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) is the agency tasked with regulating the production, processing, and retailing of recreational cannabis in Washington State.  The LCB has recently released its regulations detailing rules for production, processing and retailing of cannabis.

Photo: Green Ambrosia/Tyler J. Markwart

Photo: Green Ambrosia/Tyler J. Markwart

In order to appease the federal government’s concerns, the LCB made a statement indicating that there will be a low number of retail licenses given out initially, in order to control distribution and the diversion of cannabis outside of Washington State.  In time, more retail licenses will be processed to catch up with demand from the market.

For example, the City of Seattle is allowed 21 recreational dispensaries. Comparatively, Seattle currently has over 100 medical cannabis dispensaries serving only Washington State authorized medical cannabis patients.

Recreational storefronts are expected to open in the spring of 2014 at the earliest, but with the rule-making process being continually pushed back and the LCB being sued constantly, it’s going to be a rough road ahead for recreational dispensary owners to get their shops set up and stocked.

So for now, the black market is flourishing, and will likely continue to flourish even as licensed storefronts open, due to a 3 tier taxing system along with state sales tax that was added to the production and retail sale of cannabis in Washington State.

Home growing is still illegal in Washington State and can carry one or more felony charges, so don’t be expecting people to be giving away free weed because everyone is growing it in their backyards.

Photo: Nicholas Noyes

Photo: Nicholas Noyes

GETTING AROUND WITHOUT GETTING ARRESTED

If you’re planning to drive your way through Washington State, it is extremely important to understand the law to avoid serious consequences.

I-502 instituted a D.U.I. clause in the law that limits the amount of active THC in your blood stream while driving, similar to the .08% blood alcohol content limit. For cannabis, the D.U.I. limit is 5 nanograms of active THC in the blood stream. In other words, if you’re a heavy smoker, you can certainly be charged with a cannabis D.U.I in Washington state even if you haven’t gotten stoned immediately before driving.

Seattle has a fantastic public transportation system so catching a ride in a bus, train, or pedi-cab is a good alternative to driving.  The city is extremely hilly so bring a good pair of walking shoes if you choose to hoof it around.

You may also notice that Seattle is very bicycle-friendly; our mayor Mike McGinn bikes to work everyday and has enhanced the city’s bike paths to be more efficient and safe.  But D.U.I. laws also apply to bicycles in Washington State, so be careful if you rent a bike, because your driver’s license can be suspended after a B.U.I. conviction – try explaining that one to your friends! (Also, be sure to wear a helmet – it’s illegal to bicycle without one, even if you’re an adult.  Yes, you will get pulled over by a bike cop, and yes, you will look stupid getting a ticket on the side of the road.)

So come on out and enjoy everything Washington State has to offer…But remember, for now,  “legal” toking still comes with some limitations.

Tune in to Ladybud tomorrow for Part 2: Medical Marijuana Gets Complicated in Washington State