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Local authorities prepare for pot legalization

On Dec. 6 recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Washington state.

Although 55 percent of Washington voters chose to approve Initiative 502 – which legalizes possession of up to an ounce for adults older than 21 – the drug is still illegal at the federal level.

And with the feds still mum on whether they will continue to enforce their marijuana possession laws in Washington – as well as in Colorado, which also voted to approve recreational use – it's up to local officials to decide how to handle legalization.

"We're trying to figure this out," said Auburn City Attorney Dan Heid.

According to Heid, the City of Auburn is concerned that if it follows the law, it runs the chance of violating city ordinances.

"We have ordinances that prohibit our City from granting or permitting anything that is illegal under state or federal law in the city," he said. "Now we have a conflict between state and federal law, so we're watching and waiting with everyone else."

That includes Algona, where police Chief A.W. McGehee said police are reviewing the legislation.

"We want to get the officers all on the same sheet of music," he said. "We have not set up a meeting with our prosecutor yet."

McGehee added that he was also waiting for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to weigh in.

In Pierce and King counties, prosecutors have announced they will stop prosecuting any possession charges for an ounce or less for adults older than 21. In addition, any cases currently on the books will be dropped.

In Pacific, Chief John Calkins said he had already issued a directive instructing officers to stop enforcing possession laws for adults.

"I've talked with our City prosecutor, and I'm putting out a directive that we will not make any marijuana arrests that aren't according to the law," Calkins said. "We're taking the approach that it's already legal. Prosecutors are not going to prosecute them, and if they do, they'll be appealed. It's foolish at this point to waste your time and energy."

At the state level, outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire released a statement on Nov. 13 stating "we are following the will of the people and moving ahead with implementation of the initiative."

Gregoire also has asked the Department of Justice to clarify its position on legalization in the state.

Also waiting on clarification from the feds is the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which will oversee the regulation of marijuana in the state.

The WSLCB has a year to craft rules to guide the eventual sale and taxation of marijuana statewide.

"As we develop the rules, we will keep in mind our top priority, public safety," the WSLCB said in a press release.

The state has until Dec. 1, 2013 to draft rules for the sale of the drug.

The sale of marijuana through regulated state stores is eventually expected to provide a financial windfall for the state.

The new law calls for taxes of 25 percent on each sale between producers and processors, followed by an additional 25 percent on the sale between processor and retailer.

Consumers will then pay a 25 percent tax at retail outlets, in addition to the local sales tax.

More than 1.7 million people voted to legalize pot in Washington, whereas 1.3 million voted no.

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