Will a $27 fine prevent public pot use?

Initiative 502, which passed in December of 2012, gave people over the age of 21 the right to possess and consume small amounts of cannabis. The night after the bill was passed, supporters gathered around the Space Needle to smoke together in honor of the occasion, and the regular waft of pot around the area today might lead one to think the celebration has yet to end.

Since the measure passed, Washington state and its cities have been hashing out laws in regards to growing, selling, and consuming. One of the most hot button issues surrounding marijuana legalization is that Seattle in particular has failed to properly address public use.

Though the law prohibits use or even opening a package of marijuana in public, Seattle police department has made enforcement a low priority; a walk through downtown Seattle or Tacoma will show that this portion of the law is being respected about as well as the federal laws on cannabis were during the initial election.

Throughout 2012, Seattle authorities were instructed to simply warn those they found smoking marijuana in public and remind them that they probably shouldn’t. However, as of December of last year, they are now able to issue a whopping $27 citation to those they find lighting up outside less than what most UWT students have paid for leaving their car in a Tacoma city parking space for a few minutes too long.

This is not even taking into account that regulations on selling and licensing dealers were passed at the beginning of December 2013, meaning most of the recreational pot smoked publicly in the city last year was likely purchased from people who were selling illegally.  

Whether or not you supported marijuana legalization, no one wants to walk through a cloud of pot smoke when they take their kids down to enjoy the Seattle waterfront.  And nonpot smokers do not want to come away from a day in the city smelling like they just smoked a joint.

To legalize responsibly should be a top priority for the city.  Those who were smoking in the privacy of their own homes before the law was passed were not really the problem to begin with, as long as they didn’t decide to go joyriding afterwards.

The lack of useful action by the city to prohibit smoking in public sends a pretty clear message that the public use of marijuana is acceptable and that no one has the right to take offense.