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Midnight party: Pot, gay marriage become legal in Washington state

Jim Seida / NBC News

Garth Carroll who also goes by the name of "Professor Gizmo" smokes what he describes as "good, greenhouse organic herb" at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle just before midnight on Wednesday,

Updated at 4:51 a.m. ET: SEATTLE – When the clock struck midnight here on Thursday, hundreds of gay couples were lined up outside the county courthouse to obtain marriage licenses, while a hundred or so pot-lovers gathered across town beneath the Space Needle to light up.

They could do this because last month, on Nov. 6, Washington state voters approved marriage for same-sex couples and legalizing marijuana. Both laws went into effect at midnight.

The King County Recorder's Office opened its doors to couples at 12:01 a.m. At the front of the line were Kelly Middleton, 24, and Amanda Dollente, 29. They had arrived at 4 p.m., worried they wouldn't get a spot in line. 

They had gone through three cups of hot chocolate and countless cigarettes, worried they weren't prepared and anxious that the law might suddenly change – as it did in California in 2008.

"I ran around the building asking people, 'Are we in the right place? Will you look at my paperwork?'" Dollente said.

There was concern last week that the marriage licenses would still carry the words "bride" and "groom," but officials came through in time. The county printed out 1,000 marriage licenses with "bride," "groom" and "spouse" just in case. 

A history of pot, from George Washington to legalizing ganja
Photoblog: Pot fans light up at the Space Needle

Seventy-two couples down the line were Larry Duncan, 56, a retired psychiatric nurse, and Randell Shepherd, 48, a computer programmer, of North Bend, Wash. They wore matching duck hunter hats ("a fashion statement," Duncan joked) and matching shoulder-length white beards. They've been together 11 years.

"We were at a party and we met eyes and fell in love," Duncan said.

"He came up and asked me out, and I said yes," Shepherd added.

They’re considering getting married on Sunday at a church conducting mass ceremonies for same-sex couples, even though they’re not particularly religious.

 “Enough people have told me, ‘God hates fags,’” Duncan said, who described himself as 'Old South.' “I want someone in a church to say, ‘God loves fags,’ to have that stamp on it.”

Outside the courthouse, stickers were handed out and a group sang a cappella, pulling from gospel and the musical Rent. Some wore bridal veils or matching t-shirts; supporters passed out cups of coffee; one woman provided Kleenex; many hugged and kissed.

Inside were eight couples -- some of the movers and shakers who helped to pass the law -- who had been selected as the first to receive their marriage licenses. Among them: Pete-e Peterson, 85, and Jane Abbott Lighty, 77, have been together for 35 years after meeting on a blind date and falling instantly in love. They will be getting married during a Seattle Men's Chorus concert on Sunday.

(State law requires that couples wait at least three days after obtaining their licenses to get married, which means Sunday is the earliest day they can get married.)

Peterson grew up in Alabama and was an Air Evacuation nurse during the Korean War. She adopted her sister's 3-year-old daughter and raised her. Lighty, who grew up mostly in the Bay Area, was also a nurse.

"I never thought this day would come," Peterson told every reporter who asked.

Another couple, Amanda Beane and Anne Bryson-Beane, have been together for 15 years. They have adopted seven children who are between four and 12 and who dressed up to attend the ceremony.  

Neil Hoyt, 52, and Donald Glenn Jenny, 64, have been together for 24 years and will also be getting married at the Seattle Men's Chorus concert on Sunday night (where there will be a judge and 2,000 cupcakes).

According to UCLA's Williams Institute, same-sex marriage could pump $57 million to the state economy in the first year – resulting in $5 million of tax revenue.

Two miles away, revelers prepared to roll a joint or lift a pipe – even though it is illegal to smoke marijuana in public in Washington state.

Not that the smokers were too worried. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told The Associated Press earlier in the week that the Seattle Police Department did not expect to write many tickets – a 2003 law made marijuana the department's lowest priority.

Related: For those hazy on pot law, Seattle police produces marijuana guide

But Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes discouraged celebrants from smoking in public, telling KUOW they should smoke at home.

"And be thankful that we're no longer arresting some 10,000 Washingtonians a year in the state of Washington and spending well over $100 million in law enforcement resources on that," he added. "And especially be grateful for lessening the racially disproportionate impact that these crazy drug laws have on our communities of color."

Before midnight, the U.S. Department of Justice issued several sobering statements, reminding revelers that pot remains illegal at the federal level, and that any amount of the substance may not be brought into federal buildings, national parks and forests and military installations. And according to one statement: 

The Department of Justice is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State. The Department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. Neither States nor the Executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.

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