SEATTLE Washington state will clamp down on bars that have been skirting a ban on public pot use by converting their watering holes into private clubs, as the state navigates how it will regulate marijuana after voters legalized the drug for recreational use last year.
Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in twin popular votes in November. The Washington law will ultimately permit cannabis to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores.
The state's Liquor Control Board, charged with overseeing the move to legal adult recreational pot use, said on Wednesday that it will crack down on bars that convert into private clubs where individuals can consume marijuana.
"These licensed locations are allowing patrons to either smoke, vaporize or otherwise ingest marijuana on the premises," the board said in a statement.
Brian Smith, a board spokesman, said the law prevents public display of pot use, including in restaurants and bars, a civil infraction that equates to a $103 fine.
"You can't open it up, you can't show somebody, and you certainly can't smoke it or ingest it in some way in a public place," Smith said. "Bars and restaurants are public places that we license."
Smith said there were at least two bars in the Pacific Northwest state where patrons were toking up.
The Washington state liquor control board "will take steps to prevent that kind of activity from proliferating," he said.
The Liquor Control Board has until December to set up a system to oversee adult recreational pot use, which would regulate pot in a way similar to how alcohol is regulated.
Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.
A law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana went into effect in Rhode Island on Monday after the state last year became the 15th in the United States to enact such legislation.
(Reporting By Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)