Businesses are gearing up as previously prohibited cannabis-infused drinks, cakes and candies are about to become a legal alternative to smoking marijuana
Melanie Sevcenko guardian.com
These days, the “pot brownie” is as outdated as Betty Crocker, with cannabis edibles reaching new highs in innovation and tastes. At Portland dispensary Oregon’s Finest, cannabis-infused root beer, artisan cake bites, chocolate truffles, gummy candies and even cold brew coffee are among the delicacies.
Recreational cannabis, in the form of flower (or “bud”), has been legal to purchase in Oregon since October 2015, but edibles have remained the forbidden fruit, available only to medical marijuana cardholders. From Thursday all that’s about to change.
Oregon has approved the sale of marijuana edibles to recreational consumers and sellers are preparing to unleash everything from cannabis-infused ice cream and frozen pizza to beef jerky on to the market.
Megan Marchetti of Oregon’s Finest said the shop is expecting a bump in sales, not least from customers who previously took the 10-mile pilgrimage across the bridge into Washington state – where edibles have been recreationally available since 2014.
It’s Marchetti’s opinion that Oregon will be the natural leader in cannabis snacky treats because, simply, it’s got better bud. “I lived in the Netherlands and all over the country, trying to figure out where the best weed in the world is. It’s in Oregon,” said Marchetti. “You combine that with Oregon’s need to have everything artisan and crafted, so you have really great products. Of everything I’ve seen our game is the tightest.”
As more US states move to legalization of cannabis, edibles have worried the authorities because they could potentially fall into the hands of children or prove worryingly strong for some users.
Oregon has arguably gone the furthest in its attempts to address these concerns. The temporary rules for 2 June – as determined by the Oregon health authority (OHA) – permit dispensaries to sell one cannabinoid edible containing a maximum of 15mg THC (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) per customer per day. “Fifteen mg can be too high for a lot of people who are new to THC edibles,” said David McNicoll, producer of Dave’s Space Cakes, a gluten-free cupcake. “You really need to start with 5mg and learn what your dosage level is.”
Oregon Responsible Edibles Council (Orec), of which McNicoll is a member, has launched a “Try Five” campaign, which encourages first-time users to consume edibles containing only 5mg THC – and avoid overindulgent freak-outs.
Protecting cannabis users also extends to their children, which is why the OHA requires all edibles, whether retail or medical, to be sealed in child-resistant safety packaging.
The number of reported marijuana exposures in children under the age of six in Oregon increased from 14 in 2014, to 25 in 2015 and already 10 cases have been reported in the first three months of this year. Rob Hendrickson, associate medical director at the Oregon Poison Center, said it’s possible that incidents will increase after 2 June, as edibles can be easily mistaken for regular baked goods or candy.
Packing rules will change again towards the end of 2016, when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) absorbs the recreational market, as will potency levels. An entire package (or edible) will be limited to 50mg THC, with each serving capped at 5mg. That’s half the strength of medical edibles, and half the dosage permitted in Washington and Colorado.
The shifting rules are causing confusion. Producers of ice cream or soda, which is difficult to divide or score into 15mg THC servings, might have to sit this round out.
Yet some vendors are fast to adapt, like the producers of Sour Bhotz, a robot-shaped gummy edible which is among the top sellers at Oregon’s Finest. The fat-free and gluten-free candy will morph into something closer to “sour bitz” – robot parts – to qualify for the provisional THC limits. But the rewards on offer are huge.
Marijuana millionaires cashing in on cannabis legalisation
Edibles will be a big market, says John Kagia, director of industry analytics at New Frontier, a cannabis data-collecting firm. The reason, he explained, is multifold: edibles are attractive to non-smokers, they offer a discreet way to consume cannabis, and their selection and quality is as appealing for taste as it is for psychoactive effects. In Washington, edibles make up 10% of sales in the recreational market, but that number is growing rapidly. Oregon is expected to follow suit.
“It’s going to be huge,” said Laurie Wolf, founder of Laurie & MaryJane, which produces both sweet and savory edibles. “I think it’s going to be crazy in the beginning,” said Wolf, a professional chef and food author.
“My dream was to become the Martha Stewart of edibles,” said Wolf, whose Nut Mix and Almond Cake Bites took first and second prize at the Seattle DOPE Cup last year. “Since marijuana became recreationally legal, the edibles sales have dropped considerably,” she said. “We’re looking forward to them being back on the market.”
Yet before it can reach watering mouths in food form, all marijuana sold in Oregon must be screened for about 60 pesticides commonly used in cannabis cultivation, along with potency levels. Edibles, like Wolf’s cake bites, will undergo various lab tests, first as bud then as butter.
But that’s where the protocol gets hazy. Most edible producers are operating with small teams, limited funds and under little oversight, contributing to discrepancies between labeling and actual dosage.
According to a 2015 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, of 75 edible products from 47 different brands across the country, 17% were accurately labeled, 23% were under-labeled, and 60% were over-labeled with respect to THC content.
“It’s complicated, because on a national level weed is illegal,” said Rodger Voelker, lab director at Oregon Grower’s (OG) Analytical, which tests cannabis for dispensary sales. “There is no level playing field in regards to quality, and no accountability. Until somebody tells them you can’t be deceiving customers, it’s going to continue to happen.”
A critical step in producing consistent edibles involves a finished product test. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Instead, labs have devised their own methods – none of which have been validated by any national regulatory body, like the FDA, which is yet to step into the edibles sector.
OG Analytical is working with other laboratories to devise a uniform set of tests that can shared among states where marijuana is legal. In the meantime, Voelker warns edible producers: “Study up on what you’re supposed to be doing as though the feds were already involved, because I guarantee you that’s the direction it’s going to go.”
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People 21 and older can now legally possess recreational marijuana in Alaska, Colorado, D.C. and Washington.
All places prohibit public consumption of marijuana, but the laws differ on buying, selling, growing, testing and taxes.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: Up to six plants per adult 21 and older allowed in home for personal use. Can give up to 1 ounce to other adults 21 and older.
Sell: No system of recreational retail sales yet; expected late 2015 or early 2016
Testing: Rules not yet developed. Industry will be regulated by the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Taxes: None yet.
Possession: Adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: Up to six plants for personal use. Can gift up to 1 ounce to other adults 21 and older.
Sell: Network of state-regulated but privately owned stores. Stores opened Jan. 1, 2014.
Buy: For residents 21 and older, up to 1 ounce at a time. Non-residents 21 and older may buy only 1/4 ounce at a time.
Testing: Mandatory potency testing for all products sold in stores.
Taxes: High at both wholesale and retail level, generating more than $70 million last year.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 2 ounces.
Grow: Up to six plants per adult 21 and older allowed in home for personal use; 12 plants total per household. Can give an ounce to another person 21 and older.
Sell: Sales prohibited.
Buy: Buying prohibited.
Testing: No testing.
Taxes: No tax revenue because there's no system for selling marijuana.
Possession: For adults 21 and older, up to 1 ounce
Grow: No personal plants allowed.
Sell: Small number of state-regulated stores, which began opening July 8, 2014. Stores allowed only one sign.
Buy: Tourists and residents 21 and older can buy up to 1 ounce at a time.
Testing: Mandatory potency, contaminant testing
Taxes: State levies 25% excise tax at each sale: grower to processor, processor to retailer, retailer to customer.
Source: NORML; USA TODAY research
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By Ricardo Baca
The Cannabist Staff
Thomas Beckley and John Evich were on Cloud 9 when we spoke with them on the morning of July 8 — an unbelievably bustling Cloud 9 with electricity in the air and cash in the registers.
“We’ve had about 400 people in four hours,” said Beckley, an owner at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham, Wash. “We opened exactly at 8 a.m., and through the news we saw that we were the first shop to open in the state of Washington.”
“I’m pretty stoked,” said Evich, another Top Shelf owner. “This is so new, and we’re lucky just to get open — as that was a huge task. Right now the traffic is flowing smoothly, and we’re thankful for that.”
Top Shelf served around 1,000 grams of legal retail marijuana to more than 400 customers in its first four hours of business on July 8, Beckley said after referencing his in-house tracking system. Since the shop’s median per-gram price is $12.50, that makes for roughly $12,500 in sales for those four hours — or about $3,000 per hour.
“The line right now has dwindled down a little bit,” Beckley said. “Tonight, when everybody’s off work, I think it’ll be twice as much as it was earlier.”
The Top Shelf owners made international news earlier this week when they talked publicly about possibly using one of their crab boats or renting a helicopter to transport their marijuana stock from Bremerton to Bellingham — to expedite the process of finally opening their doors for their first legal retail sale.
That grand and elaborate plan didn’t work out.
“We ended up not using it because we ran into some aviation rules and we couldn’t go on the water because of the Coast Guard,” Beckley said. “The FAA and the Coast Guard told us they wouldn’t recommend trying it.”
Evich attributed their smooth launch on July 8 to a couple factors, including his request for a smaller manifest for their weed delivery — which allowed them to count 50-something bags of marijuana before starting sales instead of counting 2,200 bags — and the shop’s BioTrackTHC point-of-sale equipment and software.
Even given all the excitement Tuesday morning, Top Shelf Cannabis actually opened its doors a few minutes after 8 a.m.
“Our door opened at 8:03 a.m.,” said Evich, “because complying and working with the state is the No. 1 priority — even over customer service.”
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BY NIRAJ CHOKSHI
DENVER — On Wednesday morning, Sean Azzariti became the first person in the nation — and potentially the world, experts say — to buy marijuana for recreational use under a regulated, sanctioned system. The former marine who served twice in Iraq helped to make history, but his involvement on New Year’s Day reflected another change: the professionalization of a multi-million dollar industry that just 20 years ago was fully underground.
Azzariti turned to pot after receiving prescriptions for daily doses of 6mg of Xanax, 4mg Klonopin, and 30-50 mg of Adderall to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. “I just looked at this cocktail, and I was like I just can’t do this. Absolutely no way. I’d just be a drug addict,” he says. “[Cannabis] saved my life, basically.”
His involvement was part of an organized media event hosted by the industry — a reflection of a business that, after emerging from the shadows, is becoming increasingly professional. Store owners talk about $100,000 investments and expanding by tens of thousands of square feet. Even the profile of the business people involved has changed. A few years ago, most in the medicinal marijuana business had a high risk for tolerance or extraordinary passion for the work, says National Cannabis Industry Association Deputy Director Betty Aldworth.
“But now what we see more and more are experienced investors, experienced entrepreneurs coming in with lower-risk tolerances,” she says. “People who tend to be more averse are looking at this industry seeing potential and poking their toes in the water.”
Toni Fox, who is both passionate about the legalization movement and a serious business owner, owns the 3D Cannabis Center, the 18,000 square foot space where Azzariti made his purchase. She plans to expand and expects her average monthly revenues of $30,000 to grow more than eightfold to $250,000 once improvements are made. Medicine Man, a few miles away, boasts an even-larger 20,000-square-foot production space with plans to double it underway. Painting that expanded space alone had cost roughly $100,000, according to Peter Williams, who owns the company with his brother Andy and mother Michelle Zeman.
Even the industry organization, the NCIA, is experiencing rapid change. A year ago it counted 118 member organizations. Today it’s nearly 400, Aldworth says. And they just hired two outsiders with experience in Washington, D.C.: Deputy Director Taylor West, whose focus includes communication and education; and Michael Correia, a former Republican House staffer who is the group’s director of government relations.[Disclaimer: West and the author are former co-workers.]
“This is an industry growing up, this is an industry that needs and deserves full representation in D.C.,” Aldworth says. “The consumers of adult-use recreational marijuana deserve that, as do the businesses.”
Ancillary industries have also popped up. There are business strategists, lawyers who specialize in marijuana regulations and security firms. Blue Line Protection Group boasts 30 employees and 12 contracts with marijuana-related business seeking extra security, according to a spokesman. The business was providing security at Medicine Man on opening day.
No one knows the exact impact the newly legal sales will have on the economy, but if the actions of the businesses that secured licenses is any indication, it’s going to be a boon.
In its second “State of Legal Marijuana Markets” report, ArcView Market Research projected that the newly legal recreational sales in Colorado will add $359 million to the economy, while Washington stands to gain $208 million.
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WASHINGTON -- The United States government took a historic step back from its long-running drug war on Thursday, when Attorney General Eric Holder informed the governors of Washington and Colorado that the Department of Justice would allow the states to create a regime that would regulate and implement the ballot initiatives that legalized the use of marijuana for adults.
A Justice Department official said that Holder told the governors in a joint phone call early Thursday afternoon that the department would take a "trust but verify approach" to the state laws. DOJ is reserving its right to file a preemption lawsuit at a later date, since the states' regulation of marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole also issued a three-and-a-half page memo to U.S. attorneys across the country. "The Department's guidance in this memorandum rests on its expectation that states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests," it reads. "A system adequate to that task must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."
The memo also outlines eight priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws. According to the guidance, DOJ will still prosecute individuals or entities to prevent:
- the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
- the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands;
- preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
The eight high-priority areas leave prosecutors bent on targeting marijuana businesses with a fair amount of leeway, especially the exception for "adverse public health consequences." And prosecutors have shown a willingness to aggressively interpret DOJ guidance in the past, as the many medical marijuana dispensary owners now behind bars can attest.
U.S. Attorneys will individually be responsible for interpreting the guidelines and how they apply to a case they intend to prosecute. A Justice Department official said, for example, that a U.S Attorney could go after marijuana distributors who used cartoon characters in their marketing because that could be interpreted as attempting to distribute marijuana to minors.
But the official stressed that the guidance was not optional, and that prosecutors would no longer be allowed to use the sheer volume of sales or the for-profit status of an operation as triggers for prosecution, though these factors could still affect their prosecutorial decisions.
The Obama administration has struggled with the legalization of medical marijuana in several states. Justice Department Officials had instructed federal prosecutors across the country not to focus federal resources on individuals who were complying with state laws regarding the use of medical marijuana. But the U.S. attorneys in several states that had legalized medical marijuana rebelled, and what was known as the Ogden memo faced stiff resistance from career prosecutors.
"That's just not what they do,” one former Justice official told HuffPost. “They prosecute people."
As a result of the internal pushback at DOJ, a new memo was issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2011 that gave U.S. attorneys more cover to go after medical marijuana distributors. Federal prosecutors began threatening local government officials with prosecution if they went forward with legislation regulating medical cannabis.
After recreational marijuana initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado in November, President Barack Obama said the federal government had “bigger fish to fry” and would not make going after marijuana users a priority.
Holder said back in December that the federal response to the passage of the state ballot measures would be coming “relatively soon.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told HuffPost his office was preparing for the “worst-case scenario” of a federal lawsuit against the law.
UPDATE: 6:15 p.m. -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who'd been pressing Holder to make a decision and respect the will of the states' voters, applauded the move, saying in a statement that "the Justice Department should focus on countering and prosecuting violent crime, while respecting the will of the states whose people have voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal and medical use." He had previously scheduled a hearing on the issue for Sept. 10.
At issue will be how the U.S. Attorneys will implement the directive. John Walsh, the lead prosecutor for the District of Colorado, has previously aggressively interpreted guidance from Justice higher-ups and targeted medical marijuana dispensaries that were not accused of breaking any state laws, like those that were operating near schools. His reaction Thursday to Holder's announcement might not give Colorado business owners much confidence that he intends to modify his approach.
"Of particular concern to the U.S. Attorney’s Office are cases involving marijuana trafficking directly or indirectly to children and young people; trafficking that involves violence or other federal criminal activity; trafficking conducted or financed by street gangs and drug cartels; cultivation of marijuana on Colorado’s extensive state and federal public lands; and trafficking across state and international lines," Walsh said. "In addition, because the Department of Justice’s guidance emphasizes the central importance of strong and effective state marijuana regulatory systems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to focus on whether Colorado’s system, when it is implemented, has the resources and tools necessary to protect those key federal public safety interests. To accomplish these goals, we look forward to closely working with our federal, state and local partners."
Via Huffington Post
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by Liz Hallroan
When the Obama administration recently announced it wouldn't challenge the decision by Colorado and Washington voters to fully legalize marijuana, criticism rained down.
The administration's position, complained one Colorado congressman, was tantamount to allowing states to opt out of the federal law banning pot possession, cultivation and sale.
Other anti-legalization activists predicted that the administration was waving the white flag in the war on drugs.
The first claim is essentially true: The states will be creating their own regulatory regimes.
As for the idea of a surrender in the war on drugs, the reality is a little more complicated.
Whatever its effect, the administration's hands-off position in Colorado and Washington will reverberate well beyond those states. And it could actually end up imposing some semblance of order in what drug law expert Mark Kleiman describes as the "Wild West" of medical marijuana.
"And that would be a potentially very, very good result," says Kleiman, who previously worked in the Justice Department's criminal division and is author of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.
"Medical marijuana is a free-for-all in many states," he says. "On Venice Beach in California, you have guys in medical scrubs and with stethoscopes walking around offering to give you a prescription."
"The administration's decision may actually mean a crackdown on that kind of business," he says.
So how does a move not to enforce federal drug law in Colorado and Washington help control medical marijuana sales and use in the 18 other states and the District of Columbia where it's legal?
Simple, says Kleiman.
To keep federal drug prosecutors at bay, Colorado and Washington have to come up with what Deputy Attorney General James Cole described this week to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as "strict regulatory schemes" that are tough in practice and meet eight federal enforcement priorities.
The priorities address everything from the distribution of marijuana to minors and transporting pot across state lines to drugged driving and using marijuana sale proceeds for criminal activities.
Don't meet those priorities? Sorry — your state is going to be in trouble with the feds, Cole says.
The Senate committee has advised Cole to come up with metrics by which the DOJ can measure state performance in meeting the priorities.
What's already happening is that some states with legal medical marijuana are devising regulatory schemes that would also satisfy federal priorities. They view it as the path to keeping federal drug prosecutors off their backs and also to full legalization.
Cole issued a memo in 2011 that gave U.S. attorneys more authority to aggressively pursue medical marijuana distributors but also served to discourage local officials from adopting medical marijuana regulations.
"Suddenly, the politics of this has reversed," Kleiman says, "and a lot of marijuana advocates are saying, 'Let's do something about the medical marijuana business; let's clean it up.' "
Now, for the first time, the feds have provided an incentive for states to more tightly regulate medical marijuana.
California is contemplating legislation to create new oversight by a medical marijuana agency that would develop and enforce regulations for commercial medical marijuana activity, including for production and distribution. Businesses already operating legally under city or county laws would be grandfathered in.
Other states that permit medical marijuana have gotten busy, too, armed now with a blueprint for how to clean up a messy industry.
Federal officials also have more work ahead: The administration and Congress still need to figure out how to adapt federal banking and tax laws to account for the new cannabis-related businesses in Colorado and Washington.
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Marijuana superstore opens in Seattle
by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News
Instead of a state-run liquor store, a building in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood now holds “the Whole Foods of weed,” according to the man who owns the business inside.
Green Ambrosia opened last Saturday and is the city’s biggest medical marijuana dispensary.
The opening comes as Washington’s Liquor Control Board and lawmakers decide how to regulate recreational marijuana sales in the wake of Initative 502, which legalized the use and possession of small amounts of pot.
“This could be the face of what I-502 enabled pot looks like,” explained Green Ambrosia owner Dante Jones.
Jones’ business has operated since 2011, but only recently opened a storefront. Inside, behind a bamboo wall, is one large glass table loaded with jars of marijuana. There are restrictions on how much medical marijuana a business can have on sale.
While planning for whatever regulations may come from I-502, Jones said Saturday he is not sure how licensing will work.
“We’re preparing for it,” he said, “As a business owner, the only thing I can hope for is that they’re going to continue the same set of standards (included in the initative).”
Public forums are being held across the state on how to license recreational marijuana. No matter what the state decides, it is still possible the federal government could take action against Washington State since, according to federal law, marijuana is still illegal.
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Smokers celebrate as Wash. legalizes marijuana
SEATTLE (AP) — The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle’s Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law.
Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year’s Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.
A few dozen people gathered on a sidewalk outside the north Seattle headquarters of the annual Hempfest celebration and did the same, offering joints to reporters and blowing smoke into television news cameras.
‘‘I feel like a kid in a candy store!’’ shouted Hempfest volunteer Darby Hageman. ‘‘It’s all becoming real now!’’
Washington and Colorado became the first states to vote to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21. Both measures call for setting up state licensing schemes for pot growers, processors and retail stores. Colorado’s law is set to take effect by Jan. 5.
Technically, Washington’s new marijuana law still forbids smoking pot in public, which remains punishable by a fine, like drinking in public. But pot fans wanted a party, and Seattle police weren’t about to write them any tickets.
In another sweeping change for Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage. The state joins several others that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
The mood was festive in Seattle as dozens of gay and lesbian couples got in line to pick up marriage licenses at the King County auditor’s office early Thursday.
King County and Thurston County announced they would open their auditors’ offices shortly after midnight Wednesday to accommodate those who wanted to be among the first to get their licenses.
Kelly Middleton and her partner Amanda Dollente got in line at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Hours later, as the line grew, volunteers distributed roses and a group of men and women serenaded the waiting line to the tune of ‘‘Going to the Chapel.’’
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.
In dealing with marijuana, the Seattle Police Department told its 1,300 officers on Wednesday, just before legalization took hold, that until further notice they shall not issue citations for public marijuana use.
Officers will be advising people not to smoke in public, police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter. ‘‘The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.’’
He offered a catchy new directive referring to the film ‘‘The Big Lebowski,’’ popular with many marijuana fans: ‘‘The Dude abides, and says ‘take it inside!'’’
‘‘This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition,’’ said Hempfest director Vivian McPeak. ‘‘The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow.’’
Washington’s new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce for those over 21, but for now selling marijuana remains illegal. I-502 gives the state a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage. Analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools, health care and basic government functions.
But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it’s banned from federal properties, including military bases and national parks.
The Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the regulatory schemes in Washington and Colorado from taking effect.
‘‘The department’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,’’ said a statement issued Wednesday by the Seattle U.S. attorney’s office. ‘‘Neither states nor the executive branch can nullify a statute passed by Congress.’’
The legal question is whether the establishment of a regulated marijuana market would ‘‘frustrate the purpose’’ of the federal pot prohibition, and many constitutional law scholars say it very likely would.
That leaves the political question of whether the administration wants to try to block the regulatory system, even though it would remain legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
Liberties Union of Washington and served as the campaign manager for New Approach Washington, which led the legalization drive. She said the voters clearly showed they’re done with marijuana prohibition. ‘‘New Approach Washington sponsors and the ACLU look forward to working with state and federal officials and to ensure the law is fully and fairly implemented,’’ she said
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Wash. could become first state to approve recreational sales of marijuana for those over 21
By Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington state is on the verge of becoming the first in the nation to let adults over 21 buy taxed, inspected marijuana at state-licensed shops.
It might not clear up more than a decade of confusion that resulted from the state’s medical marijuana law, or reverse the proliferation of dispensaries. But supporters say passing Initiative 502 on Nov. 6 could make drug laws more reasonable, prevent thousands of arrests a year, and bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for schools, health care and basic government services.
It could also set up a big fight with the federal government.Voters in Colorado and Oregon are considering similar measures. But based on polls, Washington’s initiative might stand the best chance of passing. The measure has drawn slim organized opposition and gained support from some former federal law enforcement officers. The campaign has raised $4.1 million.
“There’s a real disconnect with pot,” said Brooke Thompson, a retired teacher from Bainbridge Island who found marijuana innocuous when she smoked it as a young adult. “It’s been criminalized and criminals are making money on it. The state could be making money on it, and using the taxes to go into education. It seems like a win-win, and it would be nice for Washington to be the testing ground on this.”
“Testing ground” is the right phrase. Washington could become a laboratory in easing the nation’s drug war, which has cost more than $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives in the past 40 years while doing little to dent demand.
Just as likely, it could bring on a protracted fight with the federal government. Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. law, and when state and federal laws conflict, federal law takes precedence. The Justice Department has kept mum, but if I-502 passes, many lawyers believe the DOJ is likely to try to block the law on the grounds that it frustrates the Controlled Substances Act.
That could leave just part of the initiative standing: decriminalization of up to an ounce of pot under state law, with no way to buy it legally, and a driving-under-the-influence standard that opponents consider arbitrarily strict.
The federal government could also prosecute growers or retailers licensed under the law, seize Washington’s new marijuana revenues as proceeds of illicit drug deals, or withhold money from the state.
Nevertheless, I-502’s sponsors, including former Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and travel writer Rick Steves, say the measure has been drafted to withstand a federal challenge. Alison Holcomb, I-502’s campaign manager, said at a recent debate that she would sit down with representatives of the federal government to explain how the measure could complement, not frustrate, federal efforts.
The initiative, promoted by New Approach Washington, would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and would impose a 25 percent excise tax at each stage. Adults 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of dried marijuana; one pound of marijuana-infused product in solid form, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids. The cannabis would be subject to testing to establish its THC content.
Sales wouldn’t begin immediately. The state Liquor Control Board would have a year to establish guidelines.
Holcomb, who concedes that marijuana is addictive for some, says I-502 would allow authorities to treat it as a public health issue, as has been effective in reducing tobacco use.
“We don’t arrest adults for tobacco use to try to keep kids from using it,” she said.
State revenue experts have estimated that I-502 could bring in as much as $1.9 billion in the next five years. Some of the money would be dedicated to the state general fund, while other portions would be devoted to health care, education and substance-abuse prevention.
If the initiative passes:
—Public use or display of marijuana would be barred.
—No marijuana facilities could be located near schools, day cares, parks or libraries.
—Employers would still be able to fire workers who test positive for pot.
—It would remain illegal to privately grow marijuana for recreational use, though medical patients could still grow their own or designate someone to grow it for them.
—It would be illegal to drive with more than 5 nanograms of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, per milliliter of blood, if the driver is over 21; for those under 21, there would be a zero tolerance policy.
There would be no legal effect on medical marijuana dispensaries. However, it could have a political effect, Holcomb said. If recreational pot sales are allowed, prosecutors and investigators might take a more critical look at whether those operations are truly serving sick people.
Organized opposition comes from a group of medical marijuana patients who object to the DUI standard and say that if people can’t grow their own, it’s not really legalization at all.
Other public health and some law enforcement officials also oppose it, even if they haven’t raised any money.
Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said his organization is concerned about increasing availability of marijuana, especially for teens, and the difficulty of enforcing the DUI provisions.
The initiative’s biggest financial contributor is Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, who has given more than $1.5 million. Lewis also contributed to Washington’s medical marijuana campaigns in 1997 and 1998.
Other donors include New York-based Drug Policy Action and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
The former head of the FBI in Seattle and both candidates for King County sheriff have voiced support.
Voters like Terry Lavender, a retired 61-year-old from Woodinville who used pot decades ago, say they’re intrigued by the idea of being able to walk into a state licensed store and buy marijuana.
“I enjoy a bit of scotch, I enjoy a beer, so maybe I would,” Lavender says. “But that’s not my motivation for doing this. My motivation is to stop locking people up.”
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