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How Washington State Is Teaching the World How to Regulate Cannabis

Jul 6, 2017 | News

The road towards cannabis legalization has been long, and—needless to say—we’re still a long way from the end. As individual states take the plunge and decriminalize weed, policymakers are looking for hints and guidance as to how this grand social experiment should roll out. Experience enacting Washington state laws on marijuana hasn’t been without its hiccups, but generally, the consensus is that full legalization has been broadly positive; here are a few of the highlights.

A Bite Out of (Cannabis) Crime

First and foremost, decriminalization drastically reduces or removes the profit motive from black-market cannabis traders. That means a reduction in crime around the growing, smuggling and selling cannabis, most critically to those who aren’t of legal age. For now, black marketeers are hanging on by undercutting the price of legal weed, which is relatively inflated due to state taxes (more on that later). As the price drops, they’ll find less and less incentive to compete.

Applying Food-Safety Standards to Washington State Laws on Marijuana

Though marked by issues—notably a frustrating lag time sorting out pesticide testing—the rollout of Washington’s cannabis-growing inspections has been hailed as mostly positive.

By transforming what was an illegal and uncontrolled agricultural product into one regulated by the same standards applied to our food, Washington is demonstrating that it “gets it” when it comes to cannabis, our health, and the potential of the “green tourism” economy.

The Green Tax Boon

Of course, consumers aren’t the only ones to benefit from decriminalization. As of early 2017, the state was projected to earn some $730 million from taxes on the sale of cannabis over the following two years. Much of these funds are earmarked to go towards public health initiatives and other community-focused projects throughout the state. When all is said and done, the windfall from cannabis isn’t massive—the addition to the state’s general fund only represents about half of one percent of the total—but it’s meaningful for specific programs such as Medicaid, substance abuse treatment and prevention, and other such efforts.

Cannabis Laws: A Work in Progress

Perhaps what’s most heartening about Washington’s cannabis legislation is that it’s reactive to the real-world environment. Three years in from its 2014 implementation, the state passed an omnibus “corrective” bill—SB 5131—to address some of the original law’s shortcomings.

Enjoying broad support from both the cannabis industry and the cannabis-curious citizenry, SB 5131 addresses several key areas, including:

  • Legal sharing of cannabis products between those of legal age.
  • Though growing your own recreational cannabis is still not allowed, there’s a mandated timeline towards figuring out how to make it legal.
  • A proposed system of standards geared towards replicating the USDA’s National Organic program for foods.

This is all great news to those who feel that safe, clean and legal cannabis is a right. While we’re not pretending there’s unanimity about just how this is to be achieved, we want to shine a light on our state and its largely impressive example of how to enact a forward-thinking, relatively smooth sea change in the span of a few years. It’s safe to say that, around the country and even further afield, people are taking note.