Reeferegulatory challenge – A growing number of countries are deciding to ditch prohibition. What comes next?
Some of this article are excerpted from the Feb 13th 2016 Economist
In an anonymous-looking building a few minutes’ drive from Denver International Airport, a bald chemotherapy patient and a pair of giggling tourists eye the stock on display. Reeking packets of mossy green buds—Girl Scout Cookies, KoolAid Kush, Power Cheese—sit alongside cabinets of chocolates and chilled drinks. In a warehouse behind the shop pointy-leaved plants bask in the artificial light of two-storey growing rooms. Sally Vander Veer, the president of Medicine Man, which runs this dispensary, reckons the inventory is worth about $4m.
America, and the world, are going to see a lot more such establishments. Since California’s voters legalized the sale of marijuana for medical use in 1996, 22 more states, plus the District of Columbia, have followed suit; in a year’s time the number is likely to be nearer 30. Sales to cannabis “patients” whose conditions range from the serious to the notional are also legal elsewhere in the Americas (Colombia is among the latest to license the drug) and in much of Europe. On February 10th Australia announced similar plans.
Now a growing number of jurisdictions are legalizing the sale of cannabis for pure pleasure – or impure, if you prefer. As of 2014, the only country in the world where marijuana was legal was Uruguay and it expects to begin non-medicinal sales through pharmacies by August. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs and drug use has dropped significantly. Jamaica has legalized ganja for broadly defined religious purposes. Spain allows users to grow and buy weed through small collectives.
The Netherlands has a law – it is theoretically illegal but the law is not enforced. Its use is restricted and can only be sold and smoked in licensed coffee shops. Recently the law was changed so that it can only be sold to residents of the country. Special garden shops are completely dedicated to supplying all the necessary equipment to produce the best growing conditions. It is ironic that the Netherlands gets few of the benefits of legalization as they do not tax marijuana. Israel, Canada and the Netherlands have medical marijuana programs.
In the US, as of 2015, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and a majority of Americans favour legalization for recreational use. Colorado and Washington states both legalized marijuana in 2014 contrary to it being illegal federally. Alaska, Washington DC and Oregon followed suit in 2015. They are all places where the drug is already popular. Taxing and controlling its distribution seems only wise in order to remove organized crime from the equation. An unfortunate consequence is that marijuana growers and retailers are unable to access the banking system and thus live in a cash economy.
Canada’s government plans to legalize cannabis next year, making it the first G7 country to do so. But it may not be the largest pot economy for long; California is one of several states where ballot initiatives to legalize cannabis could well pass in America’s November elections. A majority of Americans are in favour of such changes.
The war on drugs has not worked. It seems reasonable to try something else – legalization with proper taxation and control. Surely this is the wave of the future. There is no plant on earth with so much technology devoted to it.
What Happens When Drugs Aren’t Illegal
Some countries that have introduced decriminalization policies have seen drug use and petty crime rates decline. There is little evidence to suggest that consumption rates will rise dramatically if marijuana is legalized – particularly since cannabis is not as addictive as most drugs. In Canada, some doctors and researchers have said a strictly regulated legal marijuana market has the potential to meaningfully reduce rates of marijuana use, in the same way that regulatory tools have dramatically cut rates of tobacco use.
Countries that have loosened drug restrictions can boast some successes.
Portugal. Decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001. Since then, overall drug use has fallen, HIV cases among drug users dropped and overdose deaths are the second lowest in the EU. Teenage drug use has declined while referrals to addiction treatment have doubled.
Switzerland. Has provided methadone for heroin addicts since 1994 and hands out clean needles, halving the number of drug injectors with HIV and cutting crime. Bern also decriminalized marijuana in 2013. The rate of cannabis use in the Netherlands is 5% compared to 12% in the United States.
Uruguay.Formally legalized marijuana in 2013 with plans to sell it for $1 per gram. Though the state has struggled to sell retail pot, buying marijuana on the black market is reportedly cheaper, causing drug cartels to suffer.
Netherlands. Although the Dutch policy of tolerance toward soft drugs permits “coffee shops” to sell pot without fear of prosecution, marijuana use per capita is much lower in the Netherlands than in the US.
Legalizers argue that regulated markets protect consumers, save the police money, raise revenues and put criminals out of business as well as extending freedom. Though it will be years before some of these claims can be tested, the initial results are encouraging: a big bite has been taken out of the mafia’s market, thousands of young people have been spared criminal records and hundreds of millions of dollars have been legitimately earned and taxed. There has so far been no explosion in consumption, nor of drug-related crime.
To get the most of these benefits, though, requires more than just legalisation. To live outside the law, Bob Dylan memorably if unconvincingly claimed, you must be honest; to live inside it you must be regulated. Ms Vander Veer points to a “two-inch thick” book of rules applicable to Medicine Man’s business.
Such rules should depend on which of legalisation’s benefits a jurisdiction wants to prioritise and what harms it wants to minimise. The first consideration is how much protection users need. As far as anyone has been able to establish (and some have tried very hard indeed) it is as good as impossible to die of a marijuana overdose. But the drug has downsides. Being stoned can lead to other calamities: in the past two years Colorado has seen three deaths associated with cannabis use (one fall, one suicide and one alleged murder, in which the defendant claims the pot made him do it). There may have been more. Colorado has seen an increase in the proportion of drivers involved in accidents who test positive for the drug, though there has been no corresponding rise in traffic fatalities.
The chronic harm done by the drug is still a matter for debate. Heavy cannabis use is associated with mental illness, but researchers struggle to establish the direction of causality; a tendency to mental illness may lead to drug use. It may also be the case that some are more susceptible to harm than others.
Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University has found that cannabis users are more likely than alcohol drinkers to say the drug has caused them problems at work or at home. It is an imperfect comparison because most cannabis users are, by definition, lawbreakers, and therefore perhaps more prone to such problems. Nonetheless it is clear that pot is, in Mr Caulkins’ words, a “performance-degrading drug”.
What’s more, some struggle to give it up: in America 14% of people who used pot in the past month meet the criteria by which doctors define dependence. As in the alcohol and tobacco markets, about 80% of consumption is accounted for by the heaviest-using 20% of users. Startlingly, Mr Caulkins calculates that in America more than half of all cannabis is consumed by people who are high for more than half their waking hours.
To complicate matters, the public-health effects of cannabis should not be looked at in isolation. If taking up weed made people less likely to consume cigarettes or alcohol it might offer net benefits. But if people treat cannabis and other drugs as complements—that is, if doing more pot makes them smoke more tobacco or guzzle more alcohol—an increase in use could be a big public-health problem.
No one yet knows which is more likely. A review of mostly American studies by the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, found mixed evidence on the relationship between cannabis and alcohol. Demand for tobacco seems to go up along with demand for cannabis, though the two are hard to separate because, in Europe at least, they are often smoked together. The data regarding other drugs are more limited. Proponents of the Dutch “coffee shop” system, which allows purchase and consumption in specific places, argue that legalisation keeps users away from dealers who may push them on to harder substances. And there is some evidence that cannabis functions as a substitute for prescription opioids, such as OxyContin, which kill 15,000 Americans each year. People used to worry that cigarettes were a “gateway” to cannabis, and that cannabis was in turn a gateway to hard drugs. It may be the reverse: cannabis could be a useful restraint on the abuse of opioids, but a dangerous pathway to tobacco.
Danger and harm are not in themselves a reason to make or keep things illegal. But the available evidence persuades many supporters of legalization that cannabis consumption should still be discouraged. The simplest way to do so is to keep the drug expensive; children and heavy users, both good candidates for deterrence, are particularly likely to be cost sensitive. And keeping prices up through taxes has political appeal that goes beyond public health. Backers of California’s main legalization measure make much of the annual $1 billion that could flow to state coffers.
Setting the right level for the tax, though, is challenging. Go too low and you encourage use. Aim too high and you lose one of the other benefits of legalisation: closing down a criminal black market.
Comparing Colorado and Washington illustrates the trade-off. Colorado has set its pot taxes fairly low, at 28% (including an existing sales tax). It has also taken a relaxed approach to licensing sellers; marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Washington initially set its taxes higher, at an effective rate of 44%, and was much more conservative with licences for growers and vendors. That meant that when its legalisation effort got under way in 2014, the average retail price was about $25 per gram, compared with Colorado’s $15. The price of black-market weed (mostly an inferior product) in both states was around $10.
The effect on crime seems to have been as one would predict. Colorado’s authorities reckon licensed sales—about 90 tonnes a year—now meet 70% of total estimated demand, with much of the rest covered by a “grey” market of legally home-grown pot illegally sold. In Washington licensed sales accounted for only about 30% of the market in 2014, according to Roger Roffman of the University of Washington. Washington’s large, untaxed and rather wild-west “medical” marijuana market accounts for a lot of the rest. Still, most agree that Colorado’s lower prices have done more to make life hard for organised crime.
Uruguay also plans to set prices comparable to those that illegal dealers offer. “We intend to compete with the illicit market in price, quality and safety,” says Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board. To avoid this competitively priced supply encouraging more use, the country will limit the amount that can be sold to any particular person over a month. In America, where such restrictions (along with the register of consumers needed to police them) would probably be rejected, it will be harder to stop prices for legal grass low enough to shut down the black market from also encouraging greater use. Indeed, since legalisation consumption in Colorado appears to have edged up a few percentage points among both adults and under-21s, who in theory shouldn’t be able to get hold of it at all; that said, a similar trend was apparent before legalisation, and the data are sparse.
If, starved of sales, the black market shrinks beyond a point of no return, taxes could later go up, restoring the deterrent. There is precedent for this. When the prohibition of alcohol ended in 1933, Joseph Choate of America’s Federal Alcohol Control Administration recommended “keeping the tax burden on legal alcoholic beverages comparatively low in the earlier post-prohibition period in order to permit the legal industry to offer more severe competition to its illegal competitor.” After three years, he estimated, with the mob “driven from business, the tax burden could be gradually increased.” And so it was (see chart 3).
Those taxes reflected the strength of what was for sale; taxing whiskey more than beer made sense as a deterrent to drunkenness. Here, so far, the regulation of cannabis lags behind. The levies on price or weight used by America’s legalising states are easy to administer, but could push consumers towards stronger strains. In the various lines sold by Medicine Man, for example, the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound that gets you high, varies from 7% to over 20%. The prices, though, are mostly the same, and there is no difference in tax. Some like it weak, but on the whole, Ms Vander Veer says, the stronger varieties are what people ask for. If they cost no more, why not? The average potency on sale in Denver is now about 18%, roughly three times the strength of the smuggled Mexican weed that once dominated the market.
Barbara Brohl, the head of Colorado’s Department of Revenue, says THC-based taxation is something the state may try in the future. But the speed with which the regulatory apparatus was set up—sales began just over a year after the ballot initiative passed in November 2012—meant that they had to move fast. “We’re building the airplane while we’re in the air,” she says. Uruguay, clear that it wants to be “a regulated market, not a free market”, as Mr Romani puts it, plans a more direct way of discouraging the stronger stuff. Dispensaries will sell just three government-approved strains of cannabis, their potencies ranging from 5% to 14%.
Another issue for regulators is the increasing number of ways in which cannabis is consumed. The star performer of the legalised pot market is the “edibles” sector, which includes THC-laced chocolates, drinks, lollipops and gummy bears. There are also concentrated “tinctures” to be dropped onto the tongue and vaping products to be consumed through e-cigarettes. Foria, a California company, sells a THC-based personal lubricant (“For all my vagina knew, I was laying on one of San Diego’s fabulous beaches!” reads one testimonial).
The popularity of these products looks set to grow; users appreciate the discretion with which they can be consumed, producers like the ease with which their production can be automated (no hand-picking of buds required). But edibles, in particular, make it easy to take more than intended. A hit on a joint kicks in quickly; cakes or drinks can take an hour or two. Inexperienced users sometimes have a square of chocolate, feel nothing and wolf down the rest of the bar—only to spend the next 12 hours believing they are under attack by spiders from Mars.
LEGALIZATION IN THE USA – Legalizing a Drug is Harder Than It Looks
Since late 2012, five states have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use; licensed shops in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Delaware and Washington DC now sell it to anyone who wants it. Six states have legalized the drug for medicinal use, bringing the total to 23. Most Americans now say they favour legalization. The House of Representatives has voted to defund federal raids of medical-marijuana facilities in states that allow them. Serious newspapers (though not, alas, this one) have appointed pot critics. And an Oklahoma state senator has campaigned to legalize the drug because in Genesis 1:29, “God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed…upon the face of all the earth’.”
Benefits of Legalization
Legalization promises three benefits. First, it will stop governments from wasting lots of cash locking up people who haven’t hurt anyone. Second, it will raise tax revenue. Third, it will put criminals out of business. Washington’s experience suggests that the third promise may be hardest to keep. Even in Colorado, dispensaries rather than shops accounted for two-thirds of sales between January and April.
As support for legalization grows, more states will do it. Oregon and Alaska will vote on legalization in November; Floridians will decide about medical pot. California is likely to vote on legalization in 2016. In other states, particularly in New England, legislators may free the weed.
Research suggests that some of the cannabinoids found in marijuana can help relieve pain and nausea. Others may stimulate appetite. The drug is also linked to more worrying outcomes, particularly among the young, and may raise the risk of schizophrenia. Alas, federal prohibition has made it difficult to investigate pot’s medical properties.
Campaigners have pursued a state-by-state strategy, but for many medical marijuana is more about paving the way for legalization than about helping the sick. In most states officials and dispensary-owners conspire in the fiction that customers are all “patients” and shops merely non-profit “co-operatives”. The doctor’s “recommendations” needed to procure marijuana are easy to obtain.
They also hinted at the great bounties that pot taxes could deliver to state coffers. Colorado and Washington have earmarked a lot of marijuana taxes (in Washington, 81%) for worthy causes such as school construction and drug education. But revenue forecasts have proved inaccurate in Colorado, and the licensing chaos in Washington will have a similar effect.
A thornier problem for regulators may be that tastes change fast. Walk into a medical-marijuana outlet in Washington and you will be confronted with a vast array of products, from marijuana-infused ghee to cheese sauce. Vaporizers, which allow smoke-free consumption, are a big hit. Concentrates, which can deliver a quick, intense buzz, account for around one-third of sales at Rain City, a dispensary south of Seattle. As Colorado’s experience with edibles shows, officials struggle to keep up with such a mutable market. But to regulate it properly they must try, for some day the idea of rolling a spliff may seem quaint.
FEDERAL LAW in the USA
The great unknown is the role of the federal government. Not only is marijuana illegal under federal law; it is classed as a Schedule I drug—as bad as heroin. So those states that have legalized it are licensing their residents to commit felonies. In August 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memo suggesting it would intervene only if its enforcement priorities were threatened. But federal law supersedes that of states, which is why pot merchants are shunned by banks and forced to pay six-figure tax bills with suitcases of cash. Prosecutors have the discretion to crack down anytime. Nothing is legal under I-502 – they can put you in prison for having it, growing it or selling it. To prevent the law from failing, the law is likely to be modified. And as more stores open, legal shops should begin to supplant illicit competitors. President Barack Obama and Eric Holder, the attorney general, have given the two legalization experiments a cautious green light. But if a drug hawk replaces Mr Obama after 2016, he or she will not find it hard to revive the war on weed in states that thought they had ended it.
In 2014, the US Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water available for irrigation forbid the us of their water on marijuana. This will not have much effect on Colorado where all is grown indoors, but in Washington, where much more will be grown outdoors, it will have an effect.
Thus, the drug still carries a large risk premium. Big banks will not accept deposits from pot shops for fear of violating federal money-laundering laws. Zealous prosecutors have seized assets and threatened landlords. All this puts off investors and makes it harder for above-board operators to acquire the legitimacy they crave. “Either we should wipe out the black market, or we should not,” says a frustrated Brendan Kennedy, the boss of Privateer Holdings, a marijuana-investment outfit. In 2014, the US Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water available for irrigation forbid the use of their water on marijuana. This will not have much effect on Colorado where all is grown indoors, but in Washington, where much more will be grown outdoors, it will have an effect.
That will not happen until the federal prohibition is lifted. That may seem remote, but opinion is shifting fast. “I see [legalization] as a second-term [Hillary] Clinton thing,” says Mark Kleiman of the University of California, Los Angeles. Earl Blumenauer, a pro-legalization congressman from Oregon, thinks marijuana will be rescheduled within three years. Bipartisan coalitions can be found for reform.
Just because marijuana is legal in some states doesn’t mean it won’t land you in jail.
The fate of the experiment will affect everywhere else in the country. Legal weed may be on the ballot in several more states in 2016. Supporters hope Washington’s stumbles will be as instructive as Colorado’s successes. An imperfect law in Washington gives an example to the rest of the nation.
Campaigners in Colorado used the success of their state’s medical system to argue for the creation of a recreational one. When Colorado became the first state to license pot shops on January 1st, tokers merrily queued in the cold for a puff and a place in history. Colorado’s recreational pot business was built on the back of a well-regulated medical one. Retail licenses were initially restricted to dispensary-owners; on January 1st, many stores merely changed their signs.
Colorado allows home-grown marijuana, is opening up its recreational system to non-dispensaries and, for the first time, allowing retailers or producers to specialize. Colorado legislators have copied Washington’s (controversial) provisions for assessing whether drivers are stoned. Drug laws are anything but set in stone. The market is ill-understood; regulators will need to be flexible.
But the mood in Washington state, which opened its shops on July 8th, is more downbeat. Severe shortages meant that barely half a dozen shops opened on day one; including just one in Seattle. Several warned that they probably had only enough weed to last a few days. Washington also has a medical-pot business, but it is an unregulated mess.
The relationship between medical-pot advocates and legalizers can be fraught. In Washington, the main opposition to I-502 came from a medical industry worried, with reason, that it would find itself folded into the same legal regime as recreational pot shops. But more broadly the spread of medical marijuana has softened up voters: fewer now see it as a moral issue.
I-502, the voter initiative that legalized marijuana in 2012, charged the state’s Liquor Control Board (LCB) with building a recreational industry from scratch. Most people think it has done well, but it has not been easy. “We wanted to bring in as many people from the black market as possible,” says Alison Holcomb, a lawyer who drafted I-502. Application fees were kept low, and a lottery determined who would win the limited number of producer, processor and retail licenses, regardless of the quality of the applicant. The LCB was overwhelmed by the number of bids—over 7,500—and says it will not finish processing them until early 2015. It has issued only 90-odd licenses to producers.
Officially, the LCB hopes that within a year I-502 shops will capture 25% of the market. Others think that is optimistic. For now, prices are high: around $20 a gram, which is twice the black-market (or medical) cost. That partly reflects eye-watering excise taxes: 25% at each stage of distribution, plus normal sales taxes. But wholesale prices are high too, suggesting supply shortages are the main culprit.
Analysts speak of the “Goldilocks” price for weed: not too low (to avoid spurring consumption), not too high (to undercut the black market). For now Washington is erring on the high side, although prices will surely drop as the market settles. Yet the LCB faces an extra challenge. Like Soviet officials organizing the tractor industry, it must, under I-502, determine a maximum quota for production. This was originally set at 2m square feet of marijuana plants, although so far only 687,644 sq. ft. has been licensed, and officials now decline to offer a precise figure. No more than 334 shops may be licensed (although local bans mean that limit may never be reached).
I-502 will create new consumers, but no one knows how many, or how much they will buy. Nor does anyone know how many people will move from the illicit or medical markets to I-502 shops. Meanwhile, the LCB has deliberately suppressed supply to limit the risk of marijuana being diverted to other states or to children, which would upset Uncle Sam. It is as if those Soviet officials were setting local tractor quotas even as the Kremlin enforced a nationwide tractor ban.
After a string of well-publicized incidents in Colorado involving edible products, including two deaths, Washington’s governor tightened the rules. Cannabis cafés may open in Seattle this year (probably vaporisers only). Campaigners in Washington want to change the law to allow home-grown marijuana; Colorado allows this, but Barbara Brohl, head of the Department of Revenue, says its unregulated nature is one of her biggest worries. Drug laws are anything but set in stone.
This Time article (July 21, 2014) profiles Harvey, a 70 year old with a medical prescription for marijuana. He has gout and arthritis and they grow marijuana on their property near Kettle Falls in NE Washington. He mixes it with butter used to bake confections that give him great pain relief. Washington State has had a medical-marijuana law since 1998 allowing doctor-authorized patients to use the drug for palliative purposes. Washington’s first recreational-pot shops opened for business July 1.
On August 9, 2012, eight officers found 70 pot plants marked by the green-and-white sign denoting a medical grow. Returning with a federal warrant, they ransacked the house. Federal prosecutors charged the defendants with growing and distributing cannabis, citing the legal firearms they recovered, drug paraphernalia and financial ledgers the authorities say were sales records. The records denote overhead costs paid by the members of the medical-marijuana collective (they grow for 3 others who live in Seattle and say they lack the space to grow their own crop). Their records and documents were consistent with personal use, not trafficking. He and 3 friends go to court at the end of July each facing a minimum of 10 years in prison. Barring a plea, they will almost certainly be convicted. His case is a reminder of the risks people may not realize they’re running. Harvey worries he will die in prison.
Their case highlights the legal paradoxes in states that have taken steps to relax marijuana laws. Even though you can buy high-grade marijuana over the counter, it remains a federal crime to grow, sell, or possess the drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act that classifies pot as a Schedule I drug. And while the Obama administration has urged law enforcement to let the legalization experiments play out, that guidance isn’t always followed by federal prosecutors. Which means legal marijuana isn’t exactly legal.
Even in Washington, the standards seem to shift from city to city. In nearby Spokane, billboards point the way to dispensaries. In Seattle, where the district attorney has stopped prosecuting minor marijuana cases, patients can shop at more than 200 medical dispensaries, compare strains at artisanal markets or have it delivered to the door like pizza. The dispensaries are listed on a website called Weedmaps, which collates locations, prices and product reviews. The directory also includes some of Seattle’s cannabis “farmers’ markets,” where vendors pay $1,800 per month to showcase artisanal bud. These sellers are not all licensed business owners but rather growers who say lower overhead costs allow them to “share” quality herb at better prices. To gain entry to a farmer’s market, you need medical authorization. For those who can’t crack the medical market, illegal delivery services can bring high-grade weed to your home within the hour. An iPhone app called Canary, has become so popular in its first few months that its business swelled to 12 drivers selling cannabis at $45 per eighth of an ounce. A website disclaimer states that it’s strictly for medical patients, but in truth, it isn’t. The ease of undercutting the legal market may mean that the law is going to fail. However 13 counties and several dozen cities have enacted moratoriums or bans on pot sales. Nobody knows what legalization means.
The confusion in Washington State bears little to pot’s smooth debut in Colorado, which also voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Shops across Colorado opened on time in January. Since then, crime is down, job growth is up, and robust sales have yielded more than $17 million in tax revenue for the state. But Colorado had an advantage: a regulatory system in place to govern medical marijuana, on which the state built its recreational market.
Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998 but never got around to licensing or regulating its sale. With little oversight, the industry flourished; until recently, there were more medical-pot shops in Seattle than Starbucks outlets. Doctor-certified patients are permitted to grow their own weed and share it with other patients. It became impossible to separate seriously ill patients from the stoners feigning maladies to finagle medical consent. So most stores stopped trying. Legalization was cast partly as a way to bring order to this hazy scene. To address safety concerns, proponents of the ballot initiative known as I-502 proposed tough penalties for users who exceed a measured threshold for stoned driving. To prevent rogue dealers from shipping weed across state lines, they promised modest cultivation caps. And they built a wall between growers and sellers, using the state liquor industry as a mode. The pitch worked and in November, 2012, 56% of voters made one of the first two states in the world to approve the sale of recreational cannabis to adults over 21.
The immediate challenge was competition. The handful of new, regulated legal sellers will have a hard time luring customers from the hundreds of cheaper medical dispensaries. Meanwhile, a three-tiered tax system called terrible and inefficient may push smokers and sellers alike toward the black market. The hope is to make the legal market about 25% of the overall market for dope in the state by the end of the year. That may be optimistic as the few sellers who have managed to navigate the state’s regulatory labyrinth say there isn’t anything to sell. The balky new system produced a lack of licensed growers.
WASHINGTON STATE AND MARIJUANA – A Personal Experience August 2014
On my way to Burning Man in NW Nevada, I drove through Washington State. The first big city I hit was Yakima and I stopped at Station 420, a Washington State licensed recreational marijuana retailer. A small chart listed the 8 varieties for sale with their THC concentrations and whether they were indica or sativa. The only product for sale was in two-gram amounts (in plastic bags in nice little cardboard boxes) that retailed for $51 (or $750 per ounce). They thought the price would go down in the fall when more product was expected to be available. Washington licenses separate growers for the recreational market instead of using the medical market sources. They simply had not licensed enough growers and thus little was available, especially outside the larger cities. Medical marijuana sells for $150 per ounce in Washington and $180-200 per ounce for illegal weed in British Columbia. My thought was that this is a ridiculous price and will do little to get rid of the illegal market.
The store had a large supply of a brochure “Marijuana use in Washington State – An Adult Consumer’s Guide”. It details advice on Edible Products, Concentrates and Vaporizer Pens. It is only legal to purchase up to one ounce of bud, 16 ounces of edible product in solid form (72 ounces in liquid form) or 7 grams of concentrate. The Driving and DUI section states that is illegal to drive with 5ng/ml of THC or more in your blood if you are 21 (zero if under 21) with a blood test performed at police stations or medical facilities. This is the same very low level as in Germany. It says that it can take 3 hours for some people to drop below that level after using marijuana (that level is possible the next day in heavy users after having not smoked for 8 hours). It recommends 5 hours especially if edible products have been used.
Consumption is legal only in private residences or in a private hotel room, and is illegal in public view (state parks, public hiking trails and ski resorts), in navigable waters (federal jurisdiction) and in National Parks. It is illegal to take marijuana outside of Washington State.
ALASKA – Legalized Marijuana February 24 2015
Al though it remains illegal to buy or sell marijuana, it is legal, if over 21 years of age, to have up to 2 oz of marijuana and up to 6 plants, three of them “mature”. It is legal to give up to 1 oz of marijuana away for free to anyone but no money or barter can occur in payment. Thus it is only possible to get marijuana legally is to grow it yourself or have generous friends – there are no licensed stores or recreational growers.
WASHINGTON DC – Legalized Marijuana February 26 2015.
In Novemeber 2014, the citizens of Washington DC voted to make it legal for adults to have small amounts of marijuana for use in their own homes. On February 26, it became legal, if over 21, to have marijuana under the terms of “HOME USE, HOME GROWN”. Again there are no stores, recreational growers or anywhere to buy marijuana legally. You can only grow it yourself.
On June 18 2015, Delaware became the 19th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. But pot remains illegal under federal law, which has made studying its effects particularly challenging. But also since June, the White House announced that researchers will no longer have to submit proposals to the US Public Health Service, lifting a major bureaucratic hurdle. Scientists need to be part of making policies, and the only way we can do that is through fast research we can answer some of the questions the public is asking.
a. most of the 75 edible marijuana products purchased in the US inaccurately labeled the potency. Some had 60% less THC than advertised, while around 20% had more – probably attributed to a lack of industry standards and regulations.
b. A review of 79 randomized clinical trials of nearly 6,500 patients, found limited existing evidence of marijuana’s benefit for some medical conditions. Moderate-quality evidence showed that it helped with chronic pain and reduced muscle spasticity in patients with MS. Only low-quality evidence showed that it helped with nausea caused by chemotherapy and weight gain in HIV patients and no reliable evidence that it improved psychiatric conditions like depression or relieved eye pressure in glaucoma – all conditions that can qualify people for medical marijuana under state laws.