On Monday, respected policy think tank The Brookings Institutionpublished a paper analyzing Washington’s implementation of the law passed in 2012 to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. The results: the state is doing well and is actively trying to learn from the process. The results could have far-reaching implications for marijuana policy reform in other states.
Brookings’ Philip Wallach interviewed advocates, researchers, and government policymakers in Washington to learn about the state’s novel approach. In this report, he highlights several noteworthy features:
Building a funding source for research directly into the law: a portion of the excise tax revenues from marijuana sales will fund research on the reform’s effects and on how its social costs can be effectively mitigated.
Bringing to bear many perspectives on legalization by coordinating research efforts across multiple state agencies, including the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Health, and the Liquor Control Board.
Mandating a cost-benefit analysis by the state’s in-house think tank, which will be nearly unprecedented in its scope and duration.
Wallach makes a number of suggestions to ensure that Washington’s knowledge experiment can be made to work, including:
Ensure political independence for researchers, both by pressuring politicians to allow them to do their work and by encouraging the researchers themselves to refrain from making political recommendations
Gather and translate research into forms usable by policymakers
Counter misinformation with claims of confident uncertainty
Have realistic expectations about the timeline for empirical learning, which means cultivating patience over the next few years
Specify which reliable metrics would indicate success or failure of legalization
According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, 25 shops across the state are expected to open today, with more opening in the weeks and months to follow. Adults 21 and over will be able to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana from licensed establishments that must pay taxes and ensure that products are tested and properly labeled. Because the first growers have not been licensed for long, prices may be high and supply may be short in these first months of legal sales.
For decades, marijuana prohibition has drained our federal, state, and local governments of resources while failing to prevent use or abuse. The voters of Washington wisely chose a new approach: Taxing and regulating marijuana cultivation and distribution to adults. Considering it is far safer than alcohol, it’s about time it’s treated similarly.
Mexico’s president is hinting that he is considering making marijuana legal south of the border, San Francisco Weekly reports. In an interview published Sunday in El Pais, President Enrique Peña Nieto said that the drug war is a failed policy and that it does not make sense for Mexico to continue its marijuana policy when the United States is becoming increasingly lenient.
The current policy in Mexico is that small quantities of marijuana are legal, but cultivation and distribution remain criminal acts. Mexico has recently seen a drop in marijuana prices for cartel-connected farmers as a result of the United States regulating large portions of the marijuana market here. In addition to his comments on the drug war, President Nieto added that Mexico should not continue on what he called a “path of inconsistency,” as the United States is reconsidering its own failed drug policies.
Martin Nickerson has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Washington, attempting to bar the state from collecting taxes on marijuana sales. Washington state officials are demanding that he pay taxes on those sales to the tune of $62,000. However, since Nickerson is under prosecution for the criminal sale of marijuana as a medical marijuana producer, he claims that forcing him to pay taxes on his sales would violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Alison Holcomb, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who was the main author of Washington State’s successful ballot initiative, said the lawsuit has a low probability of taking down the state’s legal marijuana system.
Suppliers like Nickerson have already made public their intent to break federal law, Holcomb said, so paying taxes on their proceeds would not do much to further incriminate them.
“Paying taxes on marijuana implicates you, but so does everything else about being engaged in this system,” she said.
Ultimately, the case brings into question whether federal laws trump state laws when it comes to collecting tax revenue generated from marijuana sales. The outcome of this case could have a significant impact on medical marijuana businesses around the country.
The Washington State Marijuana Retail Licenses Lottery begins today with a total of 334 retail licenses to be awarded. Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center will be conducting the lottery for the state’s liquor control board, which oversees the marijuana retailers once they become licensed.
Approximately 1,500 applicants are in the lottery pool. With such a large applicant pool, the lottery process is expected to take all week with the board reviewing background checks on not only the applicants, but also their investors and financiers. The Washington State Liquor Control Board says, “The process will be extremely secure and will determine who gets a retail license to sell pot legally in Washington.”
“Legally” is the key term here. This lottery marks the beginning of WA businesses controlling the marijuana market and taking it out of the hands of criminals. Since small amounts of marijuana possession were legalized on Dec. 6, 2012, Washington residents have been acquiring marijuana through unlicensed, illicit dealers.
Final results of the lottery will be released on May 2, and the state expects to have the first marijuana stores open sometime in July of 2014, in accordance with the Implementation of I-502.