By Phillip Dawdy
Special to Toke of the Town
Today is Legalization Day in Washington. Evergreen State voters made a loud and clear statement on November 6, dear readers, and here we are 30 days later leading the way in — finally! — taking cannabis to a new and different place.
This is the first time full legalization (or “legalization,” as some I-502 detractors still insist) has happened anywhere on Earth since America banned the fabulous cannabis plant in 1937. That’s a big deal — for Washington, for America, and for the world.
Even if you didn’t vote for 502 due to its many flaws, I encourage you to embrace this moment because something like this only comes around once in our lives. Americans, including my grandfather, have died for our right to tell the feds to stuff it over cannabis.
Breathe deep. Full absorption.
I worked against 502 over its DUI provision. I’ll embrace December 6 as hard as will Alison Holcomb.
Once we all exhale, there are other matters to consider. Or as, Sean Green, who owns the Pacific Northwest Medical collective in Shoreline put it, “People sure are excited about legalization, but they aren’t always educated about how it works.”
Since the November election, Green’s collective has had its share of non-medical cannabis patients come through its doors or light up its phone asking to buy their “legal weed.” After being told that the collective only serves medical cannabis patients with valid authorizations and that they must be confused, they are pushed out the doors and into the large hypothesis that is the post-502 world in Washington State.
For the average adult-responsible-use-cannabis-user, what will change depends on where you live.
In Seattle where cannabis has been darn close to legal for 15-plus years, not too much will change. In places like Clark County and Snohomish County where there are police forces well-known for their hating on the evil weed, things will improve for potheads.
Twenty-one and up, an ounce or less, not consumed in public, you’ll be good to go — but probably not to drive right away, thanks to 502’s five-nanogram limit. I have no idea how legalization will affect cannabis supply and prices on the black market.
I do know that medical cannabis (as opposed to general adult use) is not going anywhere anytime soon. Until the inevitable lawsuits against 502 — yes, they are coming — get sorted out and the feds decide how they’re going to respond to the Liquor Control Board’s new rules for growers and pot shops, there are plenty of reasons for people to become medical cannabis patients.
Patients, you can grow your own, which recreational users cannot do under 502. You can possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis. Under 502, it’s one ounce only, Bubba. And the quality difference between medical cannabis and weed purchased from your friendly local pot dealer is vast.
Medical cannabis is also your only legal way to buy cannabis until the day the 502 shops open, whenever that will be. And medical cannabis patients do not have to pay 502’s 50 percent to 75 percent “sin” taxes and collective gardens do not have to collect them. In truth medical cannabis may actually flourish over the next few years. After all, the 502 system of legal and regulated growing and shops could be locked up in court for years — or maybe not.
The big concern among patients and providers is how 502’s THC DUI law will the medical cannabis community. I simply do not know the answer here.
I do know that Jeffrey Steinborn,a longtime Seattle-based cannabis defense attorney, told me that he’s seen more “green DUI” cases coming across his desk than he’s seen in a 40-year legal career. He feels there are cops out there who’ll be ready to pounce once the five-nanogram limit goes into effect.
We shall see how it all plays out soon enough, but recreational users ought to be as concerned as patients on this point. All I know is that the five-nanogram limit needs to addressed quickly by the State Legislature. I’m also concerned about the status of patients under 21 years old. That’s something else the Legislature needs to address.
What will we all see in the near future? There’s going to be the inevitable pot tourists coming to the Evergreen State, but where they will buy pot is anyone’s guess. Someone will inevitably open a lounge where people can vaporize cannabis. (And they’ll get that cannabis where?)
Investors are already clamoring to get into the pot game in Washington — and lawyers are standing by to charge them outrageous sums to get them through 502 rule-making. These investors are going to be surprised when they try to find spaces for retail shops. That’s because 502 imposes very strict 1,000-foot buffers on retail locations that are stricter than the guidelines the feds follow and, well, much of that real estate has already been sucked up by medical cannabis collectives, at least in much of Western Washington.
We’ll also likely see the State Legislature iron out some of the language around collectives — they’re not going to leave them half-regulated while shops for recreational users have tight rules — and, ideally, finally grant full arrest protection to patients. I hope it’s done without a registry of any kind.
After all, Washington State just made cannabis legal.