In Our View: Pot: Proceed With Caution

History will be made today in our state, but multiple uncertainties linger

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wo landmark measures of consent take effect today — Thursday, Dec. 6 — in Washington state. The recognition of same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana use were authorized by voters on Nov. 6. However, both remain in conflict with — if not in direct violation of — federal law. But there's a world of difference in how Washingtonians will be responding to the two measures.

Although same-sex marriage remains to be settled nationwide as the U.S. Supreme Court examines the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the path forward in our state has two well-defined steps. Marriage licenses will be issued today to same-sex couples, and wedding ceremonies for those couples will begin on Sunday.

But the marijuana issue in our state remains as cloudy as life lessons in "The Big Lebowski." The Dude has no clue what we're doing here in Washington, and we're not real clear on it ourselves.

Our advice on marijuana use is to proceed with utmost caution and take nothing for granted until contradictions between state and federal laws (and extending even into the area of international relations) have been ironed out. Here are three examples of why you should heed our warning:

There is little if any indication that businesses and corporations are changing marijuana components of their drug-testing policies. It remains just as possible that you could lose your job because you smoked pot. That threat might subside in a few months or years as society thrashes through all the confusion, but for now it is real. And in today's job market, marijuana could be your worst enemy.

We've heard of no colleges or universities that are relinquishing prohibitions on marijuana use on campus. The Washington Post recently quoted Kathy Barnard, spokeswoman for Washington State University in Pullman: "Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and as a federally funded institution, we abide (by) and respect that." And considering higher education's soaring tuition, marijuana could be a debt-ridden student's worst enemy.

At the local level, elected officials are moving in different directions regarding collective medical marijuana gardens. The Vancouver City Council voted 6-1 Monday to approve the gardens in areas zoned light industrial or heavy industrial. But last week, Clark County commissioners, who have authority on this matter in unincorporated areas, seemed to move toward a ban on collective medical marijuana gardens. Who knows what kind of countywide policy will be adopted, or if one ever will be? No public official we've heard from.

In terms of private, personal use of marijuana, the effect of Initiative 502's approval has been seen in the dismissal of hundreds of marijuana misdemeanor cases statewide, including Clark County. And state officials are proceeding with plans to license marijuana producers, processors and retailers and start collecting taxes.

But the stark ambiguities of this issue linger, transcending even our national borders. An Associated Press story quotes Luis Videgaray, head of Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto's transition team: "Obviously, we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when … at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status. I think we have to carry out a review of our joint policies in regards to drug trafficking and security in general."

The voters' voice was clear. I-502 passed in 20 of 39 counties, including five counties east of the Cascades. But the path to legalized marijuana use remains uncertain, indefinitely.