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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.

Washington Voters Approve Initiative to Legalize Pot

Flickr Photo/prensa4 (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Correction:  In the original story Steve Sarich was referred to as an attorney.  He is not an attorney but a medical marijuana consultant and an opponent of I-502.

Hold off on that trip to Amsterdam. It appears recreational marijuana will soon be legal for adults in Washington, at least under state law.

The mood was jubilant at the official I-502 party at the Hotel Andra in downtown Seattle. In attendance was Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, a primary backer of the measure. He says this law change is about good government.

“This is an attempt by the electorate to say we don’t need to tolerate a continuing failed policy," said Holmes. "If you can’t find the better approach, then we’ll do it for you.”

Initiative 502 legalizes marijuana for adults age 21 or older. It sets up a state-regulated system to grow, sell and heavily tax pot. It also creates a new drugged-driving standard, similar to the .08 limit for alcohol.

That DUI limit sparked opposition from medical marijuana groups.  They argue patients who use pot daily could measure over the limit, but not show any sign of impairment.

Steve Sarich is a spokesman for the “No on 502” campaign.  He calls the measure a far cry from legalization.

“What they’ve done is they’ve added a whole new prohibition, which is probably the worst prohibition yet. They’re trying to sell this idea that you can own an ounce of marijuana under I-502 because then we’re going to catch you with it,” said Sarich.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and it’s unclear how the feds will respond. A similar measure is moving forward in Colorado but headed for defeat in Oregon.


Year started with KUOW: 2006