Seattle City Attorney: Smoking Marijuana in Public Still Illegal in Washington

Dozens of people gathered near Seattle’s Space Needle on Thursday to smoke marijuana, as Washington became the first state to legalize recreational use of the drug.

On Wednesday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a warning that smoking the drug in public is still illegal. He said violators face citations with $100 fines, Reuters reports. A similar law passed in Colorado is set to take effect January 5.

The new state law forbids use of the drug outside homes. The Seattle Police Department has instructed its officers to simply warn people they see smoking marijuana in public.

The new law, known as Initiative 502, allows anyone 21 or older to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal recreational use. Driving under the influence of marijuana, or using the drug in public places, remains illegal.

“If you’re smoking in plain public view, you’re subject to a ticket,” Holmes said Wednesday. “Initiative 502 uses the alcohol model. If drinking in public is disallowed, so is smoking marijuana in public.”

The law will allow marijuana to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores, under a system that will be set up some time in 2013. It will be modeled after similar systems used by many states for alcohol sales.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle noted, “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”