At about midnight on Dec. 6 in Seattle, Wash., a crowd estimated in the hundreds gathered beneath the city’s iconic Space Needle to countdown the seconds until the official legalization of marijuana took effect in their state.
When the clock struck twelve, the elated gatherers raised their lighters in unison, ignited their joints, bongs and pipes and proceeded to enjoy their first-ever legal high.
Voters passed the law that allowed for this affair a month ago during the November election.
Through it, those 21 and older are allowed to possess, use, display, purchase and transport up to one ounce of marijuana. They may also own up to six cannabis plants — only three of which are allowed to be mature, flowering plants at any one time — so long as they are grown in an enclosed, locked space and not made available for sale.
The law stipulates, however, that none of the above may be conducted within the public domain, something the aforementioned crowd was in direct violation of Thursday morning.
Additionally, the actual sale of marijuana through state-licensed stores is not yet available or legal, and likely will not be until Washington state and Colorado — the other state to pass marijuana-related law in November — can come up with appropriate taxation schemes for the sale of the drug.
But those who enjoy the occasional high should not rejoice just yet. The possession, use, and growing of marijuana is technically still illegal under federal law, which means that federal agents can still arrest and prosecute those found with it. This is especially relevant on federal property, such as national parks and military bases, where the drug is completely banned.
Kit Kinports, professor of law at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law explained that while the cases in Colorado and Washington are not necessarily the type where Federal law can automatically trump or override state law, people still need to be wary of violating the federal government.
“You absolutely can still be arrested for committing a crime under federal law, even if what you are doing is perfectly legal within state law,” Kinports said.
Kinports, however, also noted that she was unsure how the federal government plans to handle the two new laws.
“It’s a little bit up in the air right now,” Kinports said. “My understanding is that the Department of Justice hasn’t yet said what they are going to do about [it], but it is certainly possible that they may try to have the statutes enjoined in court.”
As for Pennsylvania, marijuana still remains illegal for both recreational and medical use. However, the state senate and house are currently in the process of attempting to pass bills to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes only, though a projected date for its carry is unknown.
Nevertheless, Greg Risser (freshman–engineering science) said he doesn’t believe the government will take the time to actively search those in possession of marijuana, and thinks it’s smart to allocate government manpower toward things besides the pot-smoking community.
“It’s kind of a cliché, but they just have bigger fish to fry,” Risser said. “Unless the drug is connected to some sort of catastrophe like a murder or something, I don’t think federal agents will waste their time going after it.”
Marijuana use and possession is still entirely banned from most college campuses in Colorado and Washington, though exit polls showed the demographic most supportive of its legalization to be of college age.
Still, Mike Doyle (junior–meteorology) said he doesn’t believe this will stop students from lighting up on campus, or anywhere for that matter, and feels that it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is decriminalized everywhere.
“No matter what,” Doyle said, “I think that if people want to smoke, they’re going to do it, regardless of whether or not it is legal to do so where they happen to be at the time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.