Four things to know about smoking pot in Washington state

Michigan residents in several cities voted to decriminalize marijuana
Sean Gallup/Getty Images via CBS Detroit

Starting Thursday, it will be legal under state law for anyone over the age of 21 to possess certain amounts of marijuana in Washington state. It won't, however, be legal for anyone to sell it, or even give it away. Moreover, possession of the drug will still be illegal under federal laws.

Marijuana use will exist in a legal gray space in Washington as the state starts to implement Initiative 502, the ballot measure that voters approved on Election Day with more than 55 percent support. Voters in Colorado approved a similar constitutional amendment, which will go into effect as soon as the governor signs a proclamation to officially add the amendment to the state constitution.

As these two states venture into the uncharted territory of marijuana legalization, there are sure to be a number of questions about their new laws. With help from Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director for the ACLU of Washington state and an author of I-502, answers some of those questions.

1. It's still illegal under federal law

On Thursday, Washington state law will legalize the possession of marijuana for anyone 21 years or older. Specifically, the new law legalizes possession up to an ounce of harvested marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form (such as baked goods), 72 ounces of marijuana-infused products in liquid form, or any combination of those.

"If you are standing on Washington soil and 21 and older, it will no longer be a crime," Holcomb said. "Law enforcement can no longer seize those items from you."

Technically, however, possessing marijuana is still a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law. So far, the federal government hasn't said how it will respond to this conflict. Its options include taking a hands-off approach, enforcing the federal law itself and raiding state-sanctioned marijuana sellers once they're established next year, or suing the states.

Holcomb said marijuana use in Washington shouldn't be particularly risky, even though it's a violation of federal law.

"Federal law enforcement resources tend to be focused on major organized crime," she said. "It is very, very rare that marijuana use is subjected to federal enforcement," unless users are on federal lands like national parks. "By and large, the DEA has much better things to do than go after the marijuana users."