I am 21 years old, which means that in nine days, Washington state law will allow me to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and toke myself into a stupor if I so desire.
Unfortunately, since I don’t have a prescription, no dispensary can sell it recreationally, and distribution of the drug by private citizens remains a Class B felony under state law — see Section 19 of the new bill. The only way I’ll get any legally is if the pot fairy leaves a baggie under my pillow at night.
Adding to the confusion, there’s no surefire way to know when I’ve sobered up enough to drive. And what happens if I decide to light one up on my federally funded college campus?
What is in store for the thousands of young students who — let’s be real — aren’t going to wait until they’re of age to imbibe?
Green light, gray area
The new law gives the State Liquor Control Board until Dec. 1, 2013, to set up a system for distribution and regulation. The board released an official statement saying, “We expect that it will take the full year to craft the necessary rules which will provide the framework for the new system.”
That leaves a 360-day gap between legalization and implementation, where recreational users are left in a legal gray-area. It’s OK to have it — King and Pierce counties have dropped hundreds of possession cases already, and Cindi West, the the public information officer at the King County Sheriff’s Office, said they won’t be making any more possession arrests.
But according to a Q&A session with the Seattle Police Department, it’s still illegal to buy it, grow it, or sell it.
“Now it’s kind of strange because you can have it, but you can’t sell it to anybody,” said Alison Atwell, a University of Washington student and medical-marijuana patient. “The transaction is still illegal, so that’s really bizarre to everybody.”
The old college try
Here’s another wrinkle: Even if you’re of age and smoking in private, you still might be up the proverbial creek if you’re on a school campus that receives federal funding. With that funding comes the obligation to comply with the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug Free Workplace Act.
“If we receive federal funding, we have a responsibility to honor that, and that basically says marijuana and other substances are illegal,” said Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser of the University of Washington Police Department.
In the past, most marijuana possession cases were simultaneously referred to disciplinary bodies within the University of Washington — which can exact academic penalties — and to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, which can pursue legal action.
But King County isn’t doing a whole lot of marijuana prosecutions these days — at least not for over-age possession. Rittereiser said prosecuting for marijuana possession on campus may now be an issue between the school and the federal government, “if you even could.”
“We are on state lands here,” he said. “It’s very complicated.”
On the road
Let’s assume the pot fairy comes through, and I decide to celebrate my good fortune. How long will I have to wait before I can legally drive? Before the THC in my blood falls below the 5-nanogram-per-milliliter-of-blood limit outlined in I-502? There’s no scientific consensus, and it’s even less clear how long it would take an underage user to get below the 0.0 nanogram limit required for them.
Steve Sarich, a self-described medical-marijuana patient activist, who spearheaded the No on I-502 campaign, went so far as to say, “If you’re under 21 and using marijuana, you’re fucked.”
Sarich’s rhetoric is inflammatory, but the text of I-502 matches up to his zero-tolerance claims. The bill states that a DUI conviction is lawful when “the THC concentration of the person’s blood is above 0.00 if that person is under the age of twenty-one.”
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