Seattle, Wa. -
Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.
"I feel like a kid in a candy store!" shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. "It's all becoming real now!"
Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce (28 grams) or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.
Technically, Washington's new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren't about to write them any tickets.
In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.
Officers will be advising people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter. "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."
He offered a catchy new directive referring to the film "The Big Lebowski," popular with many marijuana fans: "The Dude abides, and says `take it inside!"'
"This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."
While now legal in Washington state, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it's banned from federal properties, including military bases and national parks.
The Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in Washington and Colorado from taking effect.