In the wake of Washington State’s historic 2012 elections, most civil libertarians and progressives are pleased with the results, but some cannabis activists are still concerned about the regulation of the state’s new marijuana laws.
Every member of Washington State’s congressional delegation was re-elected on November 6th including 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans. Popular Democratic US Congressman Jim McDermott received 80% of the votes from his district in Seattle. Both US Senators retained their seats – Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Although there have been multiple attempts by Republicans in Eastern Washington to gain control of the state government, the GOP has never been able to make inroads into the progressive Democratic Party strongholds of Seattle and King County. The Republican Party doesn’t even have a headquarters in Seattle. It’s considered “occupied territory” by most conservatives.
In spite of the powerful Democratic Party machine in the western part of the state, recent governor’s races have been some of the closest in US history. The elections involving Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire resulted in numerous recounts and multiple court challenges.
In 2012, former Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee was elected governor in another tight race against a GOP challenger - King County Executive Rob McKenna. Inslee won the close election despite a controversial decision by Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen to subsidize McKenna’s campaign with a gift of $85,000 in free newspaper advertisements.
Blethen’s decision garnered him the nickname “Citizen Kane” and resulted in a public protest by 100 of his own employees, including the Seattle Times reporting staff who claimed that the subsidy of McKenna’s campaign was a violation of editorial and journalistic ethics, as well as an obvious conflict of interest.
Two state-wide ballot measures made history on November 6th when Washington State voters approved Referendum 74 and Initiative 502. Progressives and Democrats outdid independents and conservatives on the issue of civil liberties when they voted to uphold the state’s sex marriage law and to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Major celebrations were held in Seattle December 6th on the day that the two new state laws went into effect. Festivities began at midnight at the King County Administration building where hundreds of couples lined up to be the first to apply for marriage, while pot enthusiasts joined together at the Space Needle to celebrate their victory.
After the mandatory three day waiting period, dozens of same sex couples were married at Seattle’s City Hall and hundreds of other ceremonies were held all across the state. State officials have received over one thousand new applications for marriage licenses since Dec 6th and some local judges have volunteered to conduct marriage ceremonies during their off time in order to keep up with the mounting number of requests.
Washington joins seven other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing gay partnerships. At a time when heterosexual couples are experiencing a 50% divorce rate, gay partners have actually embraced the tradition of marriage and are celebrating their new found legal recognition in Washington State.
One has to wonder, who is really practicing “families values” – the neo-cons with their subversive moralistic legislation aimed at invading the privacy of people’s homes and regulating individual sexual practices, or the liberal LBGTQ community who are openly embracing stable partnerships, adoption and legal marriage?
On December 6th, organizers of Seattle’s annual Hempfest celebration held a party outside of their headquarters, and others gathered at the Space Needle both to support and to challenge Washington State’s new law legalizing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.
Although public use of pot is still prohibited, cannabis enthusiasts gathered in the hundreds to smoke openly all over the city to mark the occasion. The details of the regulations on marijuana use, production, sale and distribution are now under the jurisdiction of the state’s Liquor Board, but the agency still hasn’t announced its policies to the public.
Because of this vague enforcement policy, many medicinal marijuana users are worried about the implications the new regulations will have on them and on recreational users. Initiative 502 allows police to test drivers suspected of intoxication for THC levels in their blood. This portion of the law is sure to be tested in court when the first marijuana DUI is issued to a driver with a good attorney. Some marijuana activists say there is no universally recognized “safe level” of THC and most longtime smokers have a very high tolerance for the chemical.
After Initiative 502 was passed by voters in November, the Seattle Police Department posted a blog on it’s website that quickly went viral – “Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle”. The SPD post explains what marijuana users should expect in terms of the enforcement of current laws on the use and distribution of pot. After the police blog was re-posted all over the internet, European media including the BBC began calling Seattle “The New Amsterdam”.
In reality, it may be legal for an adult to possess an ounce of pot, but it’s still technically illegal in Washington State to smoke it at public places such as parks, bars, or shopping malls. Until these regulatory details can be worked out by the state liquor board, no one is really quite sure what to expect.
Will the sale and distribution of marijuana also be regulated along with its recreational use? The initiative backers left that part of the enforcement policy up in the air to be decided later. All we know for sure is that the possession an ounce or less of cannabis by an adult is now legal in Washington State. Whether one can grow it, sell it or distribute it legally has yet to be decided.
Although the state’s two largest counties have dropped 220 marijuana misdemeanor charges since Initiative 502 was approved, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg warned that the federal government would file a lawsuit challenging Washington State’s new law legalizing cannabis. Satterberg pointed out that the US Department of Justice and DEA both claim legal jurisdiction over the enforcement of national drug laws.
Dan Satterberg immediately predicted that the case would end up in the US Supreme Court after a long legal battle over state’s rights. But contrary to the prosecutor’s dire prophecy, President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice recently held meetings to address the new marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado.
So far, Obama’s DOJ has decided not to launch a direct legal challenge to the state initiatives. Apparently, Satterberg was incorrect in his analysis of the situation. Despite the King County Prosecutor’s claims, the US government has not filed a request for a court injunction.
Many residents of Seattle will tell you that people’s lifestyles haven’t really changed all that much since the November election.
Despite the international news media’s hype about the new same sex marriage law and legal marijuana in Washington State, many residents of Seattle will tell you that they haven’t seen much of a change in people’s lifestyles since the election in November.
Seattle passed an ordinance several years ago which directs the police department to view the use of marijuana as the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority”. In addition, Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has always served as a safe refuge for the nation’s LGBTQ community.
The only difference has been that the people of the state and their elected government representatives have now officially sanctioned two new laws intended to ensure the protection of basic civil liberties.
On the horizon is an attempt by the state GOP to change the way electoral votes are counted, a proposed bill to abolish the death penalty, a Seattle King County gun buy back program, and a state-wide initiative to require labeling of GMO's.