On December 6, 2012, Initiative 502 went into effect – enacting the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana in Washington State. The law decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana (up to an ounce) for adults age 21 or older. It has been projected that since 1986 there were at least 240,000 arrests for the possession of marijuana by adults in Washington, which cost taxpayers more than $300 million. Washington’s Office of Financial Management has estimated that legalization could bring in about half a billion dollars each year to public funds, which does not include money saved from a decrease in arresting, prosecuting, and jailing marijuana users.

I-502 provides that this money be distributed to areas such as health care, youth drug prevention, public health education about marijuana, as well as the general fund of the state and local budgets.

But it should be noted that while adults may possess marijuana, it is not yet legal to purchase it. By December of this year, the State Liquor Control Board will decide on a system in which the production, processing, and sale of marijuana may occur – and retail stores (similar to liquor stores) will be opened. There will be a 25% tax on the drug.

That said, according to the US Controlled Substances Act, it is still illegal to grow, sell, or possess any amount of marijuana under federal law. State attorney Jenny A. Durkan has said that it is still the duty of the Department of Justice to enforce this act.

In hopes of bridging this gap, Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado has introduced an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act in an attempt to exempt state marijuana laws. Until any type of change like this occurs, it is still possible to be charged with a crime for possessing marijuana.

At this point it is better to be safe than sorry.