On the eve of marijuana legalization, many questions remain

SEATTLE (AP) - Legal marijuana possession becomes a reality in Washington state Thursday, and some people plan to celebrate the new law by breaking it.

Washington's newly passed marijuana law takes effect Thursday and allows adults to have up to an ounce of pot -- but it bans public use of marijuana, which is punishable by a fine, just like drinking in public.

To celebrate the new law, some people planned to gather at 12 a.m. Thursday to smoke up beneath Seattle's Space Needle. Others planned to party outside Hempfest headquarters in Seattle.

On Wednesday evening, the Seattle Police Department issued a statement making clear that officers will not be ticketing marijuana users, even if those users are smoking in a public place.

According to police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, city and state laws don't contain any language "that gives officers clear direction on how to deal with the provisions of I-502 prohibiting public use of marijuana."

"In the meantime, in keeping with the spirit of I-502, the department's going to give you a generous grace period to help you adjust to this brave, new, and maybe kinda stoned world we live in," the statement reads.

So, instead of ticketing public pot smokers, police will issue a verbal warning.

The new law has also left a lot of unanswered questions about what people can and cannot do when it comes to pot. For instance, just because it is now legal to possess marijuana, employers can still implement drug policies that ban pot. That means workers can still be fired or not hired in the first place for using marijuana.

The question being asked most about the new law is that if buying and possessing recreational marijuana is legal, but selling it is not, then how are customers supposed to get it?

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who played a huge role in passing I-502, said there's no easy answer to that question.

"We are in uncharted territory," he said.

Beginning next December, state officials will regulate marijuana farming. They will also create a distribution system and open sanctioned stores to sell the pot.

One person who hopes to take advantage of the new law is Jamen Shively. A former Microsoft manager, Shively is now hoping to create an his own "premium marijuana" business.

He came up with the idea a few months ago and has already recruited Alan Valdes from the New York Stock Exchange as the company's chairman of the board.

"The main reason for me is about transforming our society's relationship to this incredible herb called marijuana," Shively said. "Transforming it from one of criminality to making it to something that is tolerated and controlled."

Shively's business will have to stay on the shelf until the next year. Until then, the only place to buy marijuana for recreational purposes is from a drug dealer, which puts police in the awkward position of letting buyers go while arresting their suppliers.

Holmes said many of those issues will clear up next year.

"We will then be able to give clear direction to law enforcement that if it's not licensed by the state of Washington, it's fair game," he said.

Despite November's historic vote, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and many law enforcement officials are concerned about losing federal money to fight drugs.

In a statement released Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said the federal government's views on marijuana have not changed.

"The Department's responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," the statement reads. "Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law."