Seattle Hempfest just celebrated its 26th annual event. Washington was the first state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana. It’s readily available on the retail market, where millions of dollars are made each year from the sale of legal cannabis.

But is it really legal?

Well, not according to the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The federal government’s official policy is that there’s no evidence to prove any health benefits from the use of cannabis. In fact, after a major review of current pot laws, the feds still consider it a dangerous drug. They list marijuana as a “Schedule 1” controlled substance, along with opiates, opium derivatives, hallucinogenic substances, etc.

Sessions made it abundantly clear that his agency is opposed to the legalization of recreational pot, although no raids have been conducted on retail pot shops in states where it is now considered legal.

More contradictions came from former White House Communications Director Sean Spicer earlier this year. Despite the negative findings of government-sponsored research studies, the Trump administration acknowledged the use of medical marijuana and its benefits to some patients.

There is of course a major disconnect here between the executive branch, federal law enforcement agencies and states where recreational pot has been legalized. Voters or legislators have now approved legalization in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California, Alaska, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine and the District of Columbia. However, disagreements on policy between the federal government and these states have caused some confusion among residents or visitors to our state.

If an individual purchases marijuana from a state-licensed retail store in Washington, will the DEA or other federal law enforcement officials come knocking on your door? Are records of cannabis purchases kept on file by the state or by the retailer?

Hypocrisy and inconsistencies plague our national marijuana policy. So, the real question is, “Just how legal is it?”

Here are the facts.

I haven’t found any cases where federal agents have harassed or arrested customers leaving a cannabis shop.

My investigation shows that no identifying information is maintained by the retailers unless a customer voluntarily signs up for a “rewards program” using their name.

You must be 21 or older to legally possess pot in Washington. According to the Seattle Police Department, unless you’re a licensed retailer, grower or distributor, it’s a violation of state law to possess more than an ounce of marijuana “or 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, like cookies, or 72 ounces of infused liquid, like oil.”

Be aware that transporting cannabis products across state borders in the U.S. is still a major crime!

Also, buying legal pot in Washington or Colorado does not exempt you from state and federal laws in Oklahoma or most other states. If you take your “weed” back to your home state, you’ll be violating multiple laws. Also, don’t even think about taking it into an airport or on a plane where federal regulations reign supreme! If you get caught, there will be serious penalties, including some jail time. Even possession of marijuana on a licensed boat is illegal. The Coast Guard will enforce federal laws within state waters.

In addition, it’s illegal in Washington to grow pot plants without a state license. By contrast, Colorado and Oregon allow residents to grow some cannabis plants for personal use.

Use of marijuana in public is a violation of a Seattle city ordinance, and you could incur a $27 fine from Seattle police. There has been a relatively low number of law enforcement actions but, when these cases were analyzed, researchers found some evidence of racial profiling. It’s illegal to smoke in any public business, including bars.

These are a few of the things to watch out for when dealing with “legalized” cannabis.

Obviously, legalization of pot is a national trend, but the laws are often contradictory, and many first-time consumers are still confused.

Until we adopt a rational and consistent national policy on marijuana, hypocrisy will reign supreme at both the state and federal levels. 

So, the real question is, “Just how legal is it?”