Prepare to trek new legal landscape after WA pot law change

Prepare to trek new legal landscape after WA pot law change »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – Late next week you can legally possess small amounts of pot in the state of Washington. Voter-approved Initiative 502 goes into effect on Thursday.

While Clark County prosecutors plan to dismiss current misdemeanor cases for possessing an ounce of pot or less, even after next Thursday there's still no way to legally buy marijuana without a medical marijuana card.

When the new law goes into effect, you will only be allowed to possess up to one ounce of pot and any more is a misdemeanor. Plus, an ounce and a half is a felony.

And the law doesn't allow you to grow or buy it until Washington lawmakers set up new regulations. But already, the expectation is the marijuana law will send marijuana tourists over the Columbia River.

"I think we're going to have people coming into Washington state and Vancouver in particular looking for marijuana and hoping to use it legally there," said Clark County chief deputy prosecuting attorney John Fairgrieve Friday. "But I would really discourage people from doing that."

He says prosecutors plan to pursue driving under the influence cases and other major marijuana-related crimes. But once an adult has the marijuana in hand, he says don't expect officers to investigate how it was purchased.

"We're not going to be engaging in a question of, 'Where did you get this?' because you can't legally buy it. The initiative says you can legally possess it so that's kind of the end of the inquiry," he said.

While the state law is changing, federal law is not. Fairgrieve cautions that even after Thursday, the Obama administration and the justice department could still arrest marijuana users in Washington state, especially where federal law enforcement has jurisdiction.

"If they're going to take a plane flight within the state from Seattle to Spokane or somewhere else, they need to remember they're going through TSA, they're going to be searched," Fairgrieve said.

The new DUI law for marijuana features a legal limit of five nanograms of THC in your blood. But there's no way of knowing where that line is on your own. In fact, the state is still developing its THC testing. That’s one of the reasons Fairgrieve says you should be conservative if you’re going to use.

The uncertainty surrounding the new environment led organizers to call off a planned medical marijuana farmer's market this Sunday at Vancouver's Red Lion Hotel.

A hotel spokesperson said federal and state agencies advised them to pull the contract for the event because selling drug paraphernalia violates both state and federal law.

The federal government has been relatively quiet on any potential response to voters in Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana. Both states are waiting for official word from the White House and the Department of Justice.

The White House's press secretary, Jay Carney, says the administration is working out its position but made it very clear President Barack Obama does not want law enforcement officers going after medical marijuana patients.

"The president never made a commitment to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and sellers of marijuana.  And while the president has asked the Department of Justice to use prosecutorial discretion to best prioritize law enforcement resources, he cannot nullify congressional law," he said.

Supporters of legalized marijuana say the president has ignored federal law previously, citing his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. They've also cited his refusal to deport some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.

The topic of this week's "Your Voice, Your Vote," is about the changes for legalized marijuana in Washington. Watch the show this Sunday, Dec. 2 at 9 a.m.