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.
Moments ago, the Washington, D.C. City Council voted to decriminalize marijuana possession!
The measure removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 18 years of age and older and replaces them with a civil fine of $25, similar to a parking ticket. It also removes penalties for possession of paraphernalia in conjunction with small amounts of marijuana, and it specifies that individuals cannot be searched or detained based solely on an officer’s suspicion of marijuana possession. Public use of marijuana would remain a criminal offense punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The bill goes into effect this summer.
This means that, outside of Washington and Colorado, marijuana penalties are now less punitive in our nation’s capital than anywhere else in the country.
Washington, D.C. has the nation’s highest arrest rate for marijuana possession, according to a report released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union. Blacks accounted for 91% of marijuana possession arrests in the District, and they were eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite using marijuana at similar rates. The ACLU’s analysis concluded that enforcing marijuana possession laws, which make up nearly half of all drug offenses, costs the District more than $26.5 million per year. Hopefully, this new bill will have an immediate impact on this injustice.
On Tuesday, MPP unveiled a series of billboards surrounding MetLife Stadium, site of the upcoming Super Bowl, that have been getting a lot of attention. These ads highlight the fact that marijuana is objectively safer than both alcohol and football, and call on the NFL to stop punishing players for using the safer option.
This is especially noteworthy this year, as the two teams playing in the Super Bowl are the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, both of whose home states made marijuana legal for adults in 2012.
On Wednesday, MPP’s Mason Tvert presented a Change.orgpetition calling on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to get rid of the policy of punishing players for using marijuana. The petition currently has more than 12,000 signatures.
A city ordinance in Portland, Maine went into effect last Friday, December 6th that will allow those individuals who are 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The government passed the ordinance in November, while similar ordinances passed in three cities in Michigan. While residents are still subject to state and federal laws regarding marijuana possession, they sent local law enforcement a clear message about their priorities: voters in Portland do not want penalties associated with marijuana possession. Unfortunately, the Portland Police Department has not listened.
There were only 54 marijuana citations given out last year in Portland. While Mayor Brennan expects the number to decrease this year, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck wants his officers to continue to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to issue marijuana citations pursuant to state laws, just as they have always done. Even though the police have handed out a modest number of citations in the past, their refusal to change their policies disregards the will of the voters. Furthermore, studies show that police officers arrest minorities at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession, an inequality that citizens and legislators can combat by actually removing penalties associated with possession.
On Tuesday, the American Medical Associationannouncedthat while they still consider marijuana a dangerous drug and a public health concern, federal efforts to curb marijuana use are ineffective. The organization recommended continuing the criminalization of marijuana sales but suggested that marijuana use be treated with a public health approach rather than incarceration. The AMA also stated that they would be paying close attention to Colorado and Washington as they begin to implement regulated cultivation and retail marijuana sales.
“We are sorry to hear they wish to stay the course in enforcing this failed policy, but we are pleased to hear they are interested in reviewing the potential benefits of the laws passed in Colorado and Washington to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Any objective analysis of marijuana will confirm that it is far less harmful than alcohol. If the AMA is truly concerned about public health and safety, it should support a policy in which adults are able to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
Most Americans agree that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be treated as such. The AMA is quite right that incarcerating marijuana users fails to curb use and creates more harm to the individual and society. Part of treating marijuana as a public health issue, however, is removing the marijuana market from criminal control by regulating retail sales for responsible adults.