Stores selling cannabis opened their doors across Washington on Tuesday as it became the second state to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use for adults aged 21 or older. The strictly regulated and heavily taxed system, approved by voters in November 2012, will face an intense amount of scrutiny from both the state and the federal government.
Colorado is the only other state that has legalized the sale of marijuana, with stores opening on January 1 of this year. It has since accrued millions of dollars a month in tax revenue. Earnings from tourism have also played a role in boosting profits.
Washington regulators accepted licensing paperwork from only 334 applicants. Only 25 of those received clearance on Monday to sell the drug, with many of them unable to provide marijuana only 24 hours later. Customers are only allowed to buy and possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana at a time. They can also buy up to 16 ounces of solid products infused with cannabis or up to 72 ounces of liquid products infused with cannabis. Popular edible products, such as brownies made with marijuana, will not be available in the near future because no facility has been approved for operating a kitchen where cannabis is one of the main ingredients.
One proprietor said that his store would likely charge $12-$25 per gram, depending on the type and the quality of the product. However, shortages could push prices up to $30 a gram, or approximately twice the price of the drug at the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries. Given time, the price will likely stabilize at a much lower figure. According to FiveThirtyEight, the price of recreational marijuana in Colorado as of last spring was approximately $8 per gram, while the price of medical marijuana was only $5.60 per gram.
Although marijuana stores have opened their doors in Washington, the possession of cannabis remains illegal under federal law. However, the U.S. Justice Department has stated that it will not clash with states that ensure the use of effective regulation and enforcement programs.
Authorities in Washington are on high alert for even the smallest infraction when it comes to cannabis. Police will be monitoring marijuana stores, waiting to catch those who use the drug in public or drive while under its influence. Similarly, the Washington Liquor Control Board intends to launch a series of sting operations in order to ensure that stores are not selling cannabis to underage buyers.
Other areas of the U.S. have also made similar strides toward allowing the use of marijuana. On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ratified the Compassionate Care Act, allowing doctors to prescribe nonsmokable forms of medical marijuana.
Proponents of the sale of recreational marijuana, on the other hand, have made progress in the nation’s capital. A petition calling for its legalization, submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, had 58,000 signatures. This was over twice the number needed to put a cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot for the November election. The proposed law would allow the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants at home and permit people to carry up to two ounces of marijuana. It would not, however, approve the sale of marijuana, as a current D.C. law prevents people from doing so via ballot initiative.
Although Colorado cannabis stores were the first to open their doors, efforts to continue that trend have now thrown Washington into the media spotlight. Advocates of the legalization of marijuana now have two cases to cite when defending their position in other states.
By Yitzchak Besser