Around the Nation
3:17 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Legal, Sure — But Polite? Washington Weighs Weed Etiquette

Originally published on Mon August 11, 2014 7:40 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Recreational marijuana has been legal in Washington and Colorado for a year and a half now, but people are still adjusting to that new reality. Especially contentious is the increasingly common sight and smell of people smoking pot in public. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, that's becoming a big issue in Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: We should be crystal clear here from the top. In Washington state, as in Colorado, it is not legal - not legal to smoke pot in public. On this crowded beach on Puget Sound, for instance, nobody is supposed to be smoking pot. But in practice, people like Shelby Neva and her friends here tend to see things as less black-and-white.

SHELBY NEVA: I think you should be careful, like, where you do it in public. But I definitely think it's OK as long as you're hiding it. Like a beer - you can drink a beer in a paperback. So it's the same with weed. You can hide it.

KASTE: Neva's not smoking pot right now, but a few steps away Eames Buckwalter is, and he is unrepentant.

EAMES BUCKWALTER: This is my normal thing.

KASTE: But is there - do you hesitate at all about smoking in public?

BUCKWALTER: No (Laughing).

KASTE: Why not?

BUCKWALTER: I've just been doing it so long, so...

KASTE: I mean, do you ever worry about the cops writing you one of those tickets?

BUCKWALTER: No. No, I've never had any bad experiences with the police so, you know. Yeah, no, they never bother me.

KASTE: Buckwalter's probably right not to worry. In the first six months of this year Seattle police wrote only 83 tickets for public pot, and the vast majority of those were written by just one cop who seems to have had a problem with legalization. He's been reassigned, and Seattle's politicians are now expressing concern - not so much about the level of enforcement, but more for the fact that that one officer issued a lot of tickets to homeless people. Bruce Harrell is the chair of the Public Safety Committee for Seattle's City Council.

BRUCE HARRELL: If people do not have a home - a private residence by which they want to use marijuana, what are they supposed to do?

KASTE: Harrell thinks the city should create public spaces where the homeless and others can smoke pot legally. As to enforcement on beaches and parks, he says yeah, the police should do something if they get complaints.

NATALIE SINGER-VELOOSH: I was going to use a term that's probably not allowed on the radio. I think that's backward.

KASTE: Oh, feel free.

This is Natalie Singer-Veloosh down at that same beach. She's a mom and she edits a parents magazine called "Parent Map." She says she voted for legalization because she didn't think the police should be chasing after pot users. But at the same time, she says, she shouldn't have to call 911 just to get the cops to do a little basic patrolling of this beach. She said she doesn't like how the pot smokers now brazenly toke up right in front of her kids.

SINGER-VELOOSH: You know, you shouldn't impose your spunky marijuana smell on little kids who've, you know, basically come to an open space to enjoy nature and to be outside and to breathe clean air and to play freely and have fun.

CALEB BANTA-GREEN: It's pissing people off.

KASTE: Caleb Banta-Green is a researcher at the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. He's struck by how marijuana smoke seems to have moved, as he puts it, from the backyard to the front yard. He says people probably don't need to worry about their kids getting a contact high, especially outdoors. But the sight of all that pot smoking may have another effect. It can make parents squirm.

BANTA-GREEN: What I think is interesting about pot is I think it's a gateway into a societal discussion of why do we take psychoactive substances? Why do parents take them? Do they talk to their kids about why and how they take them? Are they honest with themselves about why they take them?

KASTE: On the beach, Natalie Singer-Veloosh agrees with this. She says she's already having those conversations with her daughters about why people use certain substances to feel, as she says, silly. What she resents, though, about all of those public pot smokers is how they're forcing her to have those discussions with their kids earlier than she planned. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.