SEATTLE — The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle's Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.
Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.
A few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news cameras.
I feel like a kid in a candy store! shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. It's all becoming real now!
Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults older than 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado's law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.
Technically, Washington's new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren't about to write them any tickets.
In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at the King County auditor's office early Thursday.
King County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors' offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted to be among the first to get their licenses.
Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Hours later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of Chapel of Love.
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.
In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.