Up in smoke? Unanswered questions surround legalized pot in Washington state

SEATTLE (KCPQ) - With Washington state legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, some estimate that as much as $2 billion in tax revenue could come to the state in the next five years.

But there are a lot of hurdles to jump, including a possible fight with the federal government.

Voters approved Initiative 502 in Tuesday's general election, with 55 percent of voting YES and 44 percent voting NO. On Dec. 6, adults over than the age of 21 can have up to an ounce of marijuana legally, according to the Washington state law.

Yet many are still having a hard time deciphering the new law, including the more than 300,000 medical marijuana users in the state.

The new law creates three new taxes, with money coming from the producers, the processors and the licensing fees. Smoking pot will only be legal in homes or privately owned property. And medical marijuana dispensaries will still operate on a note-only type basis, said I-502 supporter Alison Holcomb.

"There are 316,000 marijuana users in this state and they're getting that marijuana from somewhere," Holcomb said.

Mikhail Carpenter of the state's liquor control board said it will take at least a year to set up rules on how pot will be grown, sold and bought; meaning smokers won't see pot in shops anytime soon.

"It's completely unprecedented," Carpenter said. "Nobody has attempted to set up this sort of system before, so we're treading new ground."

It's ground state workers will tread lightly because federal authorities still consider pot illegal. A feeling reiterated in a statement coming from the Department of Justice Wednesday.

"The Department of Justice's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," the statement read. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states."

Holcomb admitted the federal government could try to stop the new law. But she hoped federal officials would respect the will of the voters.

"We're really hopeful that the federal government will work with us in collaboration to implement the will of the voters," Holcomb said. "And that we won't have to have conflict."

I-502 supporters estimate that a gram of pot will cost about $13, three dollars higher than the average price on the street.

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