In Our View: Legalization Complexities

Liquor Control Board is finding the road to marijuana reform is full of bumps



Taking the pot show on the road is producing more questions than answers for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Previously, the board made tour stops at marijuana forums in Seattle and Olympia, listening to questions and answers about the decision by voters last fall to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults. Thursday evening, the WSLCB visited Vancouver and heard from a crowd of about 400 people at Clark College’s Gaiser Hall.

This whole implementation process seems to be much more complex than many of last fall’s voters might have anticipated. But credit the WSLCB and other state officials for aggressively responding to the will of the electorate, no matter how tough and unprecedented the challenge might be. As WSLCB member Chris Marr said in a Friday Columbian story: “This is the result of government by initiative, and it may not be perfect. No one is going to be completely happy with the outcome.”

Among the many questions posed at the meeting — and which will require weeks if not months of deliberation and policy decisions — were these:

Will small-time marijuana growers and those who have sold marijuana on the black market be able to compete with big corporations that move into the state?

If the newly legalized marijuana isn’t strong enough or inexpensive enough, will the black market resurface to satisfy customer demands?

Can the state project marijuana consumption accurately enough to prevent a surplus of pot that could be exported illegally to other states?

What might be the secrets of success for the many marijuana growers and sellers who will be jockeying for position?

Can Washington regulate marijuana use heavily enough to defuse countless land mines strewn along the path to legalization?

The enormity of this challenge transcends the WSLCB. As Stevie Mathieu reported in that Columbian story, the board will need to work with the state health department to oversee educational programs directed at youth awareness. The state Department of Revenue will be consulted to develop tax policies for the new industry. The Washington State Patrol certainly will need to be brought into discussions about enforcement.

And the breadth of this challenge extends beyond Washington. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat, and Republican Jared Polis of Colorado have said they will introduce legislation to change federal marijuana law, including an effort to legalize the industrial production of hemp and establishing a heavy federal tax on marijuana. No one expects such a measure to make much progress anytime soon, but if legalization succeeds in Washington and Colorado, the federal push could gain momentum.

In Idaho, one push is in the opposite direction. The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday voted unanimously to introduce a bill that would prohibit marijuana use in any form. “It’s kind of like the immigration issue,” Idaho State Sen. Chuck Winder said. “If (the federal government is) not enforcing the immigration issue, then it’s left to the states to do it. All we’re saying is, (marijuana) is causing problems to the cities and jurisdictions, so please enforce federal law as it comes to transportation of illegal drugs.”

Unlike some quick reforms that prove to be surprisingly problem-free (legalized same-sex marriage comes to mind) legalized marijuana has become a huge but necessary bureaucratic nightmare. So stay tuned.