6 Dec 2012

Lighting up time in Seattle as cannabis gets a legal high

Ganga, weed, grass, dope, pot, mary J, hash, stash …cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, the two main varieties, have spawned more euphemisms than perhaps any other illicit substance.

But what you hear in Seattle these days when people talk about marijuana is a number: 502. That is the number of the initiative that passed in this state on that night in early November when the rest of the nation was focused on the battle between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

But initiative 502, which has now been turned into a law permits anyone of the age of 21 and older to possess 1 ounce of cannabis and use it purely for fun.

As one of its leading campaigners told me last night between tokes: “This is our Berlin Wall coming down.” It is a dramatic¬† and historic shift in America’s long running culture wars. Just five years ago the mantra around marijuana was “just say no!” Or face the consequences. Plenty of people have.

There are more than 800 000 people in American jails on cannabis charges. No policeman will now arrest you on the streets of Seattle for owning or using a small amount of dope. In the neighboring state of Montana a man is serving an 18 year long sentence for running a medical dispensary.

These glaring discrepancies are part and parcel of America’s federal system. In the squeaky clean Romney household it may have been perceived as a particularly cruel irony that on the night Mitt was licking his wounds of defeat in Boston, his own home state of Massachussets voted to make it legal to smoke medicinal weed at your gay wedding, both things that Mr. Romney implacably opposed.

America is changing. Medical marijuana is now permitted in 18 states, plus the District of Columbia. Gay marriage is legal in nine, as well as DC. President Obama came out clearly in favor of same sex marriage. But stoners are miffed that the man who has admitted to smoking and inhaling a spliff as a student has so far failed to come out in support of legalization.

In fact Washington, D.C. has greeted the new law in Washington state, on the other side of the country with ominous silence. This is not good for users, for police officers and for businesses who may want to invest in cannabis. The law is as grey and hazy a cloud of smoke from a bong.

The authorities have one year here to work out the details of taxation, acquisition and enforcement. Seattle, the city that changed the world with Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft may do so again. Why not call it world wide weed?

The liquor and beer giants, that have ploughed millions into lobbying against cannabis are nervously watching a rival stimulant. There is a ton of money to be made and they won’t want to miss out on that opportunity when the moment is right.

Meanwhile the message from the stoners last night to the man in the White House was simple: “Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!”

Follow Matt Frei on Twitter

Tweets by @mattfrei