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Counting the days till marijuana's legal

By KIRK JOHNSON

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:15 a.m. HST, Nov 18, 2012



SEATTLE » Stoner humor just got a lot more complicated.

Back in the days when Cheech and Chong were more risque than wrinkled, it wafted along as one of those cultural subgenres, with its own nudge-and-wink punch lines. If you got it and laughed, you implicated yourself — and laughed again. The police mostly kept their faces straight.

But now the prospect of legalized marijuana in small amounts for personal use — approved by voters in Washington state and Colorado on Election Day — is creating a buzz of improvisation, from local law enforcement agencies up through state government.

Devising from scratch a system for legal sales and informing the public about the law are both tasks, state and local officials say, that require the turning over of a new leaf.

And the Seattle Police Department — through blog posts written by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, 29, a former crime reporter for a Seattle alternative weekly called The Stranger — is leading the charge. Bilbo Baggins from "The Lord of the Rings" lends a hand too, shown in a film clip on the police blog relishing a smokable product of uncertain provenance called Old Toby, which Bilbo says, with a blissful sigh, is "the finest weed in the South Farthing."

The goal: official communications in language that the hip, young, urban and quite possibly stoned audience that Spangenthal-Lee wrote for at The Stranger might actually want to read.

Worried about what happens if the police pull you over after Dec. 6, when the law, I-502, takes effect, and you are sober but they smell that bag of Super Skunk in your trunk? Spangenthal-Lee's "Marijwhatnow" post has the answer. "The smell of pot alone will not be reason to search," he writes.

Another question: "December 6th seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then?"

Answer: "Hold your breath."

Question: "SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?"

Answer: "No."

"There's no handbook for any of this," Spangenthal-Lee said in an interview. Meanwhile, the "Marijwhatnow" post has gone closer to viral than perhaps any official police communication in history, with 26,000 Facebook "likes" and more than 218,000 page views as of Friday.

Whether full legalization will actually occur as envisioned by the law — up to an ounce is allowed for use by an adult — is hazy. Possession remains a federal crime, but Gov. Christine Gregoire, after meeting with Justice Department officials last week, said federal prosecutors gave her no clear indication of what they would do either before or after Dec. 6.

"We are following the will of the voters and moving ahead with implementation," Gregoire said in a statement.

"Implementation" presents some high hurdles. The law allows only one year for the state to create a system of licenses for growers, processors and sellers, and to resolve equally confusing issues like the potency levels of the various products and the prices. Teams began meeting right after the election at the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which has been assigned to create and administer a marketplace.

Spangenthal-Lee, who has been writing for the Seattle Police Department's crime blog, SPD Blotter, since March, said he tried to imagine all the questions people would ask about the new law and then follow his own nose as a newsman in getting the answers.

Will, for example, police officers be allowed to smoke marijuana?

"As of right now, no," he wrote.

"Marijuana legalization creates some challenges for the Seattle Police Department," the post said, "but SPD is already working to respond to these issues head on."






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