When does Initiative 502 go into effect?
The short answer is December 6th, 2012. However, different prosecutors across the state are taking different positions. For example, prosecutors in King County and Pierce County announced last Thursday that they would be dismissing all pending marijuana charges.
But in Spokane County, a lead prosecuting attorney gave the opinion that he felt that Initiative 502 only permitted the possession of marijuana if it was bought in a state-license store. The Spokane prosecutor explained: “The only thing that is legal is selling marijuana through those stores. That will be regulated by the state. You can’t under this initiative have an ounce of marijuana that doesn’t come from a state-issued provider. You still can’t have black-market marijuana.” If that is the case, there would be a significant delay until Initiative 502 goes into effect because the state stores will not be set up until 2013. Additionally it is highly unlikely that the federal government would even tolerate the existence of state stores.
The position of Spokane prosecutor seemed to be more of an off-the-cuff remark rather than a declaration of an official office interpretation. Under legal traditions in the country, if a law is ambiguous, it is to be construed to favor the individual over the government. In law, this is often called “the rule of lenity” that “penal statutes are construed narrowly.” Several criminal defense lawyers across the state are currently making the argument that I-502 should be applied retroactively.