Washington state lights up as marijuana legalised

Washington state lights up as marijuana legalised

Pot-smokers lit up in Washington state as recreational marijuana became legal in a historic first for the United States, clouded by the fact that federal law still bans the practise.

Midnight pot parties were reported yesterday across the western US state as a new law came into force following a November 6 referendum to legalise private consumption of marijuana for recreational use.

Some 200 people gathered at midnight outside Seattle's appropriately-named Space Needle, a futuristic tower that dominates the skyline, to light up and celebrate their new-found freedom.

"You can smoke and not feel like a criminal. It's really no different than having a beer or something, in fact I think it's less dangerous," Calvin Lee told the local Kiro 7 television station.

The law made it legal for those over 21 to possess and use up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana. A number of US states have already legalised pot for medicinal purposes, but Washington is the first allowing it purely for fun. Colorado residents approved a similar law last month, on the same day President Barack Obama's was re-elected, but its pot-lovers will have to wait until January 5 to light up with impunity.

But even while Washington's marijuana fans partied, the limits of the new law were underlined: the Space Needle gathering was technically illegal, since the new law allows only private, not public, consumption of weed.

Officers took no action, and the Seattle Police Department said that for the moment it will only issue verbal warnings, even though in theory they could impose USD 50 fines for smoking marijuana on a street or in a public square.

Police drew praise for a blog -- which became an instant Internet hit -- taking a light-hearted approach to explaining exactly what is and isn't legal under the new law. The "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle" includes a link to a "Lord of the Rings" video clip entitled "The Finest Weed," showing Gandalf blowing
meditative smoke rings with Bilbo Baggins.

"Gandolf my old friend. This'll be a night to remember," Bilbo says, as Gandalf looks hazily on. More broadly, the new Washington and Colorado laws run counter to US federal law, which still bans recreational use of marijuana across the country.

"Regardless of any changes in state law growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law," noted the US Attorney's Office in Seattle.

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