Marijuana lovers toke up in celebration of legal pot anniversary

Marijuana lovers toke up in celebration of legal pot anniversary
SEATTLE -- Crowds of people bundled in winter coats celebrated the anniversary of marijuana legalization in Washington state Friday by sparking up at a city-sanctioned party under Seattle's Space Needle.

While marijuana proponents were busy celebrating legal pot, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan raised concerns about the city apparently sanctioning the pot-smoking event.

Marijuana activist Ben Livingston said it took him three months to persuade city officials to grant him a permit for the party marking the anniversary of the day the legal pot law took effect. It began at 4:20 p.m., with a line of people streaming into a big tent that quickly filled with a marijuana haze.

Durkan, for one, isn't sure it's a move the city should have made.

"I think the city is going to have to look carefully whether this is a good use of their resources of their space," she said. "That is an area well trafficked by children, and are you really cordoning it off to kids or are you sending a message to kids?"

Partygoers wished each other a happy anniversary and chanted, "Thank you, Washington!"

Jay Zozh, who moved to the state less than a month ago, marveled as the crowd passed around a footlong joint.

"If we were all in Texas, we'd be arrested and charged with felonies," he said.

The free event, capacity 999, was set up behind a double perimeter fence at Seattle Center, with the pot smoking blocked from public view. Hundreds were expected to attend throughout the event.

"I want to make the point that cannabis consumers are good people, and we should be treated equally with other people when trying to utilize city facilities," Livingston said.

The party was being held near Key Arena, where Pearl Jam was ending a North American tour, and Livingston extended an open invitation to the band's fans to swing by on their way to or from the show.

The Winterfest holiday lighting celebration, a Pacific Northwest Ballet performance of the Nutcracker, and a Seattle Children's Theatre staging of "James and the Giant Peach" were also taking place Friday night at the Seattle Center campus.

Those events didn't jibe so well with a big pot party, according to some drug abuse prevention groups. Nine people sent a letter to the Seattle Center, the City Council and the mayor, asking the event be canceled. Among the signatories were Dr. Leslie R. Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital, and Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

"Seattle Center is a poor location for the party considering it takes place during Winterfest, a family-friendly event, and among popular venues that cater to children and their families," the letter said.

Livingston responded by noting that the family-friendly Winterfest has a beer tent, which no one protested.

Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust said the pot party was permitted by the city, and it's the center's role to help ensure it's a success.

The party featured several informational vendors who helped to offset the party's estimated $11,000 cost, but Livingston hoped to recoup the rest of the balance through poster sales and donations.

Now that the law has been in effect for a year, Durkan said she'd like to see some changes.

"I feel like for the last year we've been living through the freshman year of college," she said. "Now it's time to have a serious discussion on what are going to be the parameters around this and get through this yahoo phase."