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Pot: Has Washington Botched the Legalization?

Writers from Colorado are referring to Washington’s process of regulating as failed or botched, and I can see why they think that. Coloradans voted to legalize in November, and by January product was for sale everywhere in Colorado. The first and only retail store in Seattle opened in July, and since has sold at best just a few pounds.

Colorado had a lightly-controlled, loosely-regulated medical marijuana industry in place, and the powers that be decided to allow these entities to apply for retail licenses. Medical outfits are “vertical” in that they grow, process and distribute their own products, so to convert to retail in Colorado all they had to do was get a license, collect taxes, and raise prices to compensate.

Washington does not have a regulated medical marijuana industry. Seattle alone has over 300 outlets, possibly more like 400, but they aren’t known to any authorities. So to follow the Colorado model was impossible because no one knew who the grower/producer/sellers were. So, they had to start from scratch.

In this respect, Washington was following the California model, usually described as “wild west”. First, no one in a community complains that marijuana is being used, so the authorities are left out of the loop. Should they be informed it takes the efforts of local police, county sheriffs, and US attorneys to prosecute, which involves evidence (plants, seeds, lighting equipment, witnesses), courtrooms, and jails. Somewhere around a few hundred cases this becomes impossible; multiply by thousands and thousands in California and you have the wild west.

Just looking at Seattle: There are around 300 wild-west outlets there, the Liquor Control Board has determined that there should be 21 legal licenses in Seattle, there is one licensed facility in Seattle, and they have been able to sell product for less than 12 hours in the last six weeks.

If you are reading this from Denver you would certainly say Washington has blown it. And I’d agree except I want one more number from the LCB which will be released on Tuesday. When I get that, I’ll tell you what it means.

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