I'm not drinking this month. My friend and I have a challenge, and I don't intend to lose. But before agreeing, I checked the rules: Was I allowed to smoke pot? Yes, my friend said, smoke all the pot you want.
I don't smoke much these days. I don't even have a dealer anymore. But since pot would be my sole vice for a month, and considering I had tickets for The Hobbit, I needed to score some weed by Saturday.
Meanwhile, on the news, giddy stoners were streaming out of Denver's first pot stores on New Year's Day parading bags of weed before television cameras—gleefully making history with the first legal marijuana transactions in the United States since the 1930s. Washington State was two years ahead of Colorado in passing medical marijuana, and four years ahead in making pot busts the lowest priority in the largest city in the state, and both states legalized recreational marijuana simultaneously. But Colorado stole Washington State's thunder on retail pot stores. Out here, our stores won't open until spring or summer. So even though it's legal for all adults to buy and possess up to an ounce of pot, there are still no legal businesses selling it to people who don't have medical marijuana authorizations. We're stuck scoring pot from dealers who are friends of friends, on their schedule.
But The Hobbit wasn't going to watch itself.
And then someone messaged me on Twitter about Winterlife Co-op. Their Twitter page (@WinterlifeCoop) and website (winterlifecoop.com) make no bones about what they're doing: Winterlife will deliver pot to your door "in around 45 minutes." You don't have to be a medical marijuana patient, just 21 or older with a photo ID. You call a hotline at 888-490-3666 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, and they'll hook you up, they say.
So I called.
"Thank you for calling Winterlife Cooperative. For delivery, press 1," a recording chirped. Like a civilized person who wasn't calling a pot dealer, I pressed 1. "Connecting call."
A man who called himself Bear answered the phone. Everyone who works at Winterlife has a "critter" name, he explained. Some of the proceeds go to South Sound Critter Care, a nonprofit in Kent that saves injured and orphaned wildlife, from opossums to deer to geese. (Winterlife gave the group $1,300 at the end of last year, plus $500 to a kitten rescue in Mason County.) I asked Bear about the menu that's updated daily on their website: Blueberry, Purple Kush, Dutch Treat, Perma Frost, and White Russian were $90 for a quarter ounce; less expensive strains included Bubblicious and Funky Skunk for $70 a quarter ounce. Dutch Treat is a hybrid of sativa and indica cannabis, Bear explained, and added, "It's really good."
"I'm not a medical marijuana patient," I warned up front.
"You don't have to be," Bear assured.
Approximately one minute later, I got a text: "Hi, this is Otter with Winterlife. I was told you're interested in delivery." I gave Otter my address, and he texted: "No problem, man. I'll be there in about 30 minutes."
REALLY? AN OTTER WAS COMING TO DELIVER ME LEGAL WEED THAT I ORDERED FROM A BEAR!?!!
Otter arrived in a jacket and tie. He checked my ID and handed me a $90 bag of pungent Dutch Treat; I handed him $90 and a tip. And that was that.
Suck it, Colorado.
I know what you are thinking: Is this allowed? The more I looked into it, the more evidence I found that Winterlife is not alone. I found at least one other cannabis courier service, Club Raccoons, which also has a Twitter account (@raccoons club) and a hotline (251-3352). How are services like these possible?
The answer is simple: "There is no crime defined for purchasing or obtaining marijuana," says Alison Holcomb, the primary author of Initiative 502 that legalized marijuana. State law prohibits growing and selling pot without a license, but having pot is not prohibited, and how a person obtains that ounce "is irrelevant," Holcomb says. "There is absolutely no penalty for purchase."
On the other hand, Holcomb believes, "The person delivering that marijuana is guilty of a felony." Still, there doesn't appear to be any way to crack down on someone using the service, because there is no crime under state law to charge them with, and delivery services themselves don't appear to be in any jeopardy. "As we have not licensed anyone yet, we do not have authority over anyone providing a marijuana home delivery service," says Washington State Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith, who makes it clear that delivery services are rogue operations. "The Seattle Police Department may take criminal action."
But will they?
"Probably not," says Seattle Police Department spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb. Pot delivery service is not a priority, he says, particularly because Washington is in a window between passing the legalization law and implementing a system to sell the product. "It is too early to say where a companion delivery service merits any further review," he says.
Which is why companies like Winterlife make sense: They provide a practical stopgap service, a bridge between prohibition and legalization. Voters legalized pot to decimate the black market, and until the world catches up with them, Winterlife fills an aboveboard niche that the law doesn't. That fits within a local tradition of drug-related stopgaps: deprioritizing pot enforcement, medical marijuana dispensaries, needle exchanges for hard-drug users, and ecstasy pill testing at raves are all in a legal gray area but hold public support because they satisfy an unmet need.
That's essentially the argument raised by Evan, a founder of Winterlife, who asked that The Stranger not publish his last name. People want to buy pot safely and conveniently, and authorities seem to tacitly recognize his service is within the broad spirit of legalization, he says.
Evan says Winterlife runs a tight ship that includes paying taxes and possessing a state business license (although not a cannabis license). "Being that we are high profile, if we were to have nefarious goals or be a less-than-upright business, it would quickly come back to us in the form of complaints to city and police," he says. "Given that we are in this position, it behooves us to provide the best, safest service possible."
Does Evan have a critter name, too? I can't resist asking.
"I am the opossum," he says.
Winterlife makes customers sign a brief form that says, in essence, that everyone derives some medical benefit from cannabis (an attempt to put Winterlife under the umbrella of the state's medical cannabis rules, and the right to an affirmative defense in court). "It doesn't make it technically legal, but it does make it defensible," Evan says. The possibility of federal prosecution "is always in the back of my mind," he says, but Winterlife doesn't sell to minors, sell in quantity, or sell across state lines—activities that would provoke attention from the Feds.
Even so, when licenses are issued to pot businesses later this year, the state still won't officially allow for delivery, which is one aspect of the law that someone needs to change. As the legislature convenes this week, they should expand the law to allow delivery because retail stores will still be insufficient when they open. A byzantine combination of state and local rules dictates where stores may be located, and as a result, the outlets will be largely clustered in lower-income neighborhoods and absent in many other areas, contravening the goal of battling the black market. And it's not what voters wanted. Representative Christopher Hurst and Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, both experts on state marijuana laws, should consider a bill that legalizes practical delivery services like the one Winterlife provides.
At least, it sure was practical for me.
Now I have a quarter ounce of stinky pot at home—well, nearly a quarter ounce. Two hits made The Hobbit fly by in the blink of an Eye of Sauron. And normally, a quarter ounce would last me about a year. But who knows how much I'll smoke in January. I'm not drinking this month.