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For those hazy on pot law, Seattle police produces marijuana guide

A medical marijuana plant is shown at Seattle's Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, on Nov. 7. After voters weighed in on election day, Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow legal pot for recreational use, but they may face resistance from federal regulations.Ted S. Warren / AP

A week after legalizing marijuana, Washington state voters may be hazy about the specifics of legal pot use. Which is why the Seattle Police Department published a tongue-in-cheek guide to pot in the Emerald City.

The basics: Washington state voters passed Initiative 502 with a 55 percent majority on Election Day. Beginning Dec. 6, adults over 21 won't violate state law if they possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

The specifics are thornier, as The Seattle Police Department's Jonah Spangenthal-Lee explains in "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle."

Spangenthal-Lee answers some practical questions such as "Dec. 6 seems like a really long ways away -- what happens if I get caught with marijuana before then?" (Answer: "Your case will be processed under current state law.")

Spangenthal-Lee also tackles some questions local government may have to ultimately address:

What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I've got in my trunk?

Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.

SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?


Will police officers be able to smoke marijuana?

As of right now, no. This is still a very complicated issue.

Complicated, indeed.

Washington state residents will be allowed to possess one-ounce of pot or have 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid, according to the primer. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has until Dec. 1, 2013 to finalize its rules on the sale and distribution of marijuana.

Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said the guide's lighthearted tone was intentional.

"We deliberately designed (the guide) in a way that people would enjoy it," Whitcomb told NBC News.

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Over in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado voters approved a similar marijuana measure. 

To be clear, the votes don't change how the United States federal government sees pot: Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, which means the feds believe it has no medicinal value. (Heroin and methamphetamine are also Schedule I drugs; cocaine is Schedule II because of its limited medicinal value.)

This is why, Spangenthal-Lee writes, "You probably shouldn't bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property)."

The Seattle Police Department makes clear that while they can't control the feds, "SPD officers will follow state law, and will no longer make arrests for marijuana possession as defined under I-502."

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