(SEATTLE) — Marijuana smokers breathed a puff of relief Thursday as they lit up legally for the first time in Washington state and were not cited, ticketed, or arrested for what is still a federal offense.
“There are no federal agents out there busting people,” Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Thursday, hours after a new state law legalizing pot went into effect.
Seattle police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the department’s blog, “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”
Voters in the state overwhelmingly pushed through a bill on November’s ballot legalizing the possession of marijuana, putting state law in direct contrast with federal law, under which marijuana is still an illegal substance.
The U.S. Attorneys Offices in Washington released statements Wednesday, before the law took effect, reminding residents that possessing marijuana was still a federal crime.
“Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” read a statement released by the Department of Justice. “The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”
Thursday, however, no federal agents were out pursuing charges against people celebrating the new state law by enjoying a toke, according to Seattle police.
“We have a great relationship with federal law enforcement in Seattle, and we’re not going to be jeopardizing that in any way. We recognize that federal law says it’s prohibited… but our primary area of concern is making sure we’re enforcing the law our bosses want us to, and our bosses are the general public of Seattle,” Whitcomb said.
Calls to the U.S. Attorneys Offices in Seattle and Spokane were not returned Thursday.
Washington’s new law, known as I-502, went into effect at midnight, and drew large crowds of smokers to Seattle’s Space Needle to celebrate with joints. Officers on the scene did not ticket any participants, despite the fact that smoking in public is still against the law.
Police in Seattle announced that for the first few days of the new law’s enactment, officers would only remind users to smoke indoors.
“In the meantime, in keeping with the spirit of (the new bill), the department’s going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in,” department spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the department’s blog.
“Does this mean you should flagrantly roll up a mega-spliff and light up in the middle of the street? No. If you’re smoking pot in public, officers will be giving helpful reminders to folks about the rules and regulations under I-502 (like not smoking pot in public).”
The legislatures in Washington and in Colorado, where legalization will go into effect in January, will still have to decide how to license and tax growers and sellers of pot in the state. The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet said whether it will pursue criminal charges against growers and sellers in those states.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Sara Zendehnam, CNN
Gregory Krieg, CNN