Hi, I’m Deborah Wang. In the summer of 2014 the
first recreational marijuana stores
opened in Washington State.
It was a slow start for the new industry;
marijuana producers weren’t ready with
enough supply and lines at the new
stores were long. Now the industry is
more than a year old and entrepreneurs,
law enforcement and government
regulators have had some time to work
out the kinks. Our producer Nils Cowan
reports on how it’s going.
COWAN: The sky hasn’t fallen, but since the
historic vote to legalize marijuana in
2012 the landscape of legal pot has
certainly changed. One area of the law
that has been a huge point of contention
is road safety. Although there hasn’t
been the sudden spike in marijuana DUIs that some critics feared, state
toxicology reports show they have
risen every year since legalization.
Law enforcement officials are out to change that.
SHARPE: We’ve been training officers in
drug impairment detection. Currently we
have over 200 DREs, drug recognition
experts. We also have trained
approximately 2,000 police officers in
advanced roadside impaired driving
COWAN: Police are also equipped with new legal tools
to fight stoned driving.
SHARPE: We’re collecting blood evidence on every
suspected impaired driver that’s believed
to be under the influence of a drug
whereas in the past it was implied
consent warning where a person could
refuse. COWAN: This is different than with
alcohol where a suspect can decline a
breath test but faces a mandatory
license suspension. When a DUI suspect
refuses a blood draw the officer must
obtain a warrant which can add hours to
the investigation and result in a lower
THC measurement. But police have been
able to speed up this step. SHARPE: In some
jurisdictions we have an electronic
search warrant system that streamlines
the process to where it can be emailed and
there may be a judge on call in that
jurisdiction and within minutes
be able to have that search warrant in
COWAN: Many of those who defend marijuana DUIs
say these changes go too far.
HIATT: It’s just a tremendous invasion when we are at the
point where we’re gonna say that they
can take your blood from you against
your will just because you’re driving, I
mean to me that doesn’t seem like a very
good balance of personal liberties.
COWAN: But the state contends the more aggressive
enforcement is justified, as new lab
evidence also shows that THC is
increasingly present in fatal crashes.
The most often-cited benefit of
legalization is money, and there’s been
lots of it in recent months. After 48 million dollars in total pot sales
in 2014, businesses have reported more
than $300 million so far this year. Total
tax revenue is now north of $130 million in just over a year.
It sounds like a lot but it’s still
short of original projections. Before the
vote in 2012, the Office of Financial
Management predicted a lofty
$560 million in annual tax
revenue, $430 million
more than the actual revenue thus far,
but the state hopes a recent tax
structure change will help boost sales
over the next two bienniums. However,
with most of this revenue earmarked for
research and other specific programs, it
will be much longer before pot proceeds
make a sizable dent in the state’s
estimated 2.2 billion dollar deficit.
Another economic boost will come from
the state’s upcoming regulation of
medical marijuana which will be rolled
into the state regulatory system by July
2016. Regulators and many retailers say
it’s long overdue.
GARZA: The initial law created cooperatives, the ability for
patients to be able to grow together.
What we saw happen because there was no
regulation was a proliferation of more
dispensaries. COOLEY: The truth of it is the
reason we needed to regulate it, first and
foremost, is there are a lot of people taking
advantage of the system. The medical
marijuana laws were a cover for open-air
drug dealing. COWAN: Senate bill 5052 creates a
merit-based system for existing medical
dispensaries to obtain licenses and
establishes a state database for
patients. Those who voluntarily sign up
will get higher posession limits and will
have the retail tax but not the excise
tax waived. Those who don’t register will be
considered the same as recreational
users if they’re over 21.
Many longtime medical providers say
the new rules will hurt them and their patients.
CORNWALL: This is a very rough neighborhood, it’s
very low-income. Most of my patients are
low-income patients. They can’t afford
medicine, they have cancer or they have AIDS
and I have to be able to donate that to them for free. I’m
not going to be able to acquire the amount of
cannabis I normally have to be able to
give away to patients that truly need it,
so I’m not going to be able to do what I have been
doing which has helped people.
COWAN: As Washington’s legalization experiment
continues, it seems that for the
change maybe the rule rather than the
Hi, I’m Deborah Wang. In the summer of 2014 the