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FAQs on changes to WA marijuana law

When the clock ticks past midnight Wednesday, Washington state will have the most permissive law in the nation regarding marijuana, thanks to voters who approved Initiative 502.

But the new law isn’t a blanket license for anyone to smoke marijuana anywhere, any time. There are restrictions within the law, and some items that must still be settled, either by state agencies or the courts. Here are some answers to common questions about what changes in state marijuana laws tomorrow.

So I can I legally have marijuana, right?

If you are under 21, no, just like alcohol. Over 21, yes, with some qualifications. If you live in university housing, for example you can’t have it in your residence because of school policies. Your employer may ban it from the workplace. Some jobs may have a zero-tolerance policy for drug use. The law doesn’t change those restrictions.

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And there's like a limit to how much I can have?

Yes. For adults the limit is one ounce per person. It is also legal to have up to 16 ounces of a marijuana-infused product, such as baked goods with the drug cooked into it. Above an ounce, which is 28.3 grams, current laws apply, so up to 40 grams or slightly less than an ounce and a half, is a misdemeanor and more than 40 grams is a Class C felony. A minor with an ounce or less can be cited for a civil infraction; for other amounts, the law is the same as an adult. Mary Muramatsu, an assistant Spokane city prosecutor, said there will be a zero-tolerance policy for minors with marijuana.

Dude, I'm an adult. Can I light up anywhere?

No. You cannot smoke (or otherwise consume) marijuana in a public place, which would include parks, stores, restaurants, malls and sidewalks. You can smoke in a private residence, yours or someone else’s, if they don’t object.

Bummer. My spouse and most friends don't allow smoking in the house. Can I step outside and smoke?

Maybe. In a home you have “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” City Attorney Nancy Isserlis said. But if you’re smoking on the front porch, and your house is on a busy street it could be a problem. “There are some nuances to the law that have to be worked out,” she said.

Can I drive while smoking marijuana?

Bad idea. Having a lit marijuana cigarette while driving is a civil infraction, akin to having an open container of alcohol in the car, even if you aren’t impaired. Just like there’s a legal limit for your blood-alcohol content, starting Thursday there is a limit for the amount of active cannabis agent in your bloodstream. It’s 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and some critics of the law say that’s very low for regular users. Go over and it’s an automatic ticket for driving under the influence, whether you’re smoking in the car or were smoking before you got behind the wheel.

And that will be measured how?

It requires a blood test.

So police will do blood draws on the side of the road? Eww.

No. If they suspect you of being under the influence – a WSP trooper might call a drug recognition expert if one is available – you will be informed of the state’s “implied consent” law asked to take a blood test at a local medical facility. Refusing a blood test will be like refusing a Breathalyzer test for alcohol consumption: you could lose your license through an administrative procedure and the fact that you refused could be introduced as evidence if you try to fight the DUI in court.

Can I refuse if I'm squeamish about giving blood?

Good luck with telling that to the judge.

From whom may I legally buy marijuana?

Nice grammar. Short answer: No one right now. Long explanation: The law says the state Liquor Control Board will set up a system to regulate and tax growing, processing and distribution. But the state has until next December to do that. In the meantime, Washington State troopers and other officers are directed that growing or selling any amount is still a crime.

But I can buy legally from a medical marijuana dispensary?

Only if you have a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana for a medical problem. State laws for medical marijuana, which have different limits for possession of the drug and their own legal problems with production and sale, don’t change on Thursday. Neither does the conflict between Washington state and federal laws over marijuana. If anything, that gets more complicated.


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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