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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Inside The Not-Exactly-Legal World Of Recreational Pot Delivery

Flickr Photo/Goodiez (CC-BY-NC-ND)

In a parked car, in a neighborhood near downtown, a driver passes a small brown paper bag of marijuana across the front seat. In exchange, the guy in the passenger seat hands over a wad of cash and quickly examines the contents of the bag. 

Then, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, the customer gets out of the car and heads back up to his apartment. And the driver heads off to his next delivery.

That exchange -- and countless others like it -- wouldn’t be happening if Washington state voters hadn’t legalized recreational marijuana use by passing I-502. Ironically, though, according to I-502, exchanges like that are banned.

Why? Because that marijuana wasn’t purchased at a state-licensed marijuana retail store. Instead, it came from a recreational delivery service.

This one is courtesy of a service called ATM Delivery, which was founded by a man named Art. Art asked us not to use his full name, in part because his current business isn’t entirely legal.

Art laughs when he lists what the acronym in his company's name might stand for: “All top-shelf marijuana? At the moment? All the marijuana?” 

But he gets more serious when he talks about why he started an on-demand recreational pot delivery business in the first place.

“I’ve had experience selling pot in high school, delivering pizza, making pizza to order. So it was all being trained to this point,” he said.  

He believes discreetly delivering high-quality marijuana is ultimately helping people who want to smoke pot, but aren’t ready to buy it publicly in a retail store.

“Who’s to say that if you’re a lawyer or a judge and you smoke, you don’t want to be seen going into one of those places? That’s where we come in,”  Art said. “I don’t condone black market pot sales at all.”

ATM officially opened for business this year on April 20 -- yes, four-twenty. Since then, business has just increased. “We get 500 to a thousand calls a day. A day!” Art marveled. 

But since recreational pot delivery is technically banned under I-502, how is Art’s business not black market? It all has to do with what Art calls a “big, fat loophole” in the law.

Here’s how it works: ATM Delivery buys marijuana from medical dispensaries. Then, when someone places an order, ATM dispatchers and drivers charge delivery fees starting at $60. They don’t charge anything for the marijuana.

Brian Smith is the communications director for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the office responsible for the implementation of I-502. Smith knows there are a number of recreational marijuana delivery services operating within that so-called loophole.

“Until that law is actually enforced, they’ll probably continue to do that," he said.  

In the six months that ATM Delivery has been in business, it hasn’t had any issues with law enforcement, but Art’s thinking about the future.  So starting November 1, ATM Delivery is transitioning to medical marijuana delivery only -- meaning customers must have a valid medical card.

Art hopes ATM’s customers will have time to get a valid medical card by the end of the month. But ultimately, the business isn’t just about the customers anymore.

“The more employees you hire, the more you think about how you affect other people. I just want to make sure the employees are protected,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re keeping everyone happy, including law enforcement.”  

Hope still remains for people who want marijuana delivered for recreational use, though. Art’s hired lobbyists to try and get recreational pot delivery legalized in the 2015 legislative session.

Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs have discovered the same loophole Art used to start his business. A quick Google search or perusal of The Stranger’s back pages reveals a handful of other businesses that offer recreational marijuana delivery all over the Seattle area.