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Legalization of Marijuana in Washington State Part V: Concerns Not Yet Addressed

Updated on November 10, 2012

It is done. As of November 6, 2012, Washington State and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana. Along with this of course comes a whole new set of rules. You can read the summary of the 65-page initiative in Washington State in the earlier parts of this series.

However, there was much left unaddressed. Part of it simply wasn't clear in the initiative but is still there, other parts were the buck passed on to the Liquor Control Board to determine by December 1, 2013 and be put into play by December 6, 2013. While few things are set in stone as of yet, there are some predictions as to the most likely paths to be taken regarding these concerns.

The 502 initiative will be set into play by December 6, 2012, but all the ironed out details by the Liquor Control board has until December 1, 2013 to be enforced by December 6, 2013.

On A Personal Level

The initiative covers a lot in regards to businesses, and those who intend on distributing, producing and processed marijuana and marijuana infused products such as tinctures, baked goods, alcohols, etc, but there is not very much which is stated as far as what is legal to be had on a personal level.

Very briefly, the initiative speculates that a person over the age of 21 may have on them at any time:

  • 1 ounce of marijuana
  • 1 pound of marijuana infused solid matter
  • 72 fluid ounces of marijuana infused fluid product

These must have packaging which relates to a business which has been licensed and approved by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. So for example, one can't have a zip locked bag of an ounce of pot and wave it around saying it's legal. It has to come in the packaging which represents a licensed retailer, processor, or grower.

Growing marijuana for personal use is still illegal unless one is the holder of a medical marijuana card.

Opening packaged marijuana or marijuana infused product may not be done in the public eye, nor can consumption occur in the public eye. Products may not be opened within the retail outlets or premises of a licensed marijuana production facility, processing facility, or dispensing facility. Ignoring this will result in a civil infraction/ticket, though one will not be arrested.

According to the Washington State Liquor Control Board fact sheet regarding I-502, they estimate that the price of marijuana will be:

  • $12/gram of marijuana bought at a retail outlet.
  • Medical marijuana prices at dispensaries average between $10-$15/gram
  • Estimated producer price would be $3/gram
  • Estimated processor price would be $6/gram

Driving Under the Influence - THC defined

Driving has been a huge argument in the debate of the legalization of marijuana. Some say it will be another risk of people on the road, while others disagree. Another argument is that police do not have a means of testing a person whom they have probable cause to suspect as being high on marijuana accurately, since it stays in the body for so long.

Another concern that has been voiced is the level of intoxication is considered too low. Medical Marijuana patients have exclaimed that they can smoke before going to bed and wake up with a higher level of intoxication than is legally allowed, even though they're stark sober!

As it stands, initiative 502 states that a person can legally have under five nanograms of condensed THC per milliliter of blood. This does not seem like very much. However, at the beginning of the initiative, "Condensed THC" is defined as: "...Percent of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol content per dry weight of any part of the plant Cannabis, or per volume or weight of marijuana product." This means the active component in marijuana, which only lasts within the system for 2-3 hours.

This is stated by Alison Holcomb, campaign director for I-502:

"The 5 ng/mL per se threshold applies only to delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the active THC that can cause impairment. It does not apply to carboxy-THC, the inactive metabolite stored in fat cells that can be detected in urine days, or even weeks, after last use."

The only way as of yet to test for condensed THC as it is defined in the initiative is by blood. This can only be asked to be done if the law enforcement officer :

  1. Have probable cause to arrest the driver
  2. Have probable cause to suspect the driver of being under the influence
  3. Have probable cause to suspect the driver is specifically under the influence of a drug

In other words, one has to display symptoms of intoxication which don't just pertain to alcohol.

The officer is not the one who will conducts the blood draw. Only a medical professional may do this. This means that an officer may take the driver to a clinic, or call an ambulance in to do this. This is starting to sound expensive for the state, and it is a time consuming commitment for the officer, as pointed out by Holcomb.

However, if one is found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana, a first-time offense is the same as if found driving under the influence of alcohol above the set legal limits: mandatory 24 hours in jail and a fine of $350.

Holcomb concludes:

"Not every DUI case involving a test above the per se cutoff results in a DUI conviction. Prosecutors negotiate pleas for a variety of reasons. Talk to a DUI lawyer to find out why."

Medical Marijuana Patients

I-502 will help protect medical marijuana patients. They will still be able to grow their own marijuana, or if they are unable to do it themselves, they are still able to appoint some one to grow it for them.

A concern I have had come up is the question of actually obtaining and maintaining the card itself, as there is a renewal fee each year. This will still be in place for medical patients. It is not just offering the access of medical marijuana, but it is allowing the growth of it for personal medicinal use. Without the card, and the I-502 in place, one can still have access to marijuana, but they cannot grow it or purchase it from a non-regulated/licensed grower.

On the Federal Level

Though initiative 502's legalization of marijuana is opening up a whole mansion's worth of doors, it is still illegal on a federal level. In the past we have seen with medical marijuana dispensaries in California and in Washington State, and those perfectly state-wide legal retail outlets were raided by federal law enforcement.

This is of course a logical concern to residents of Colorado and Washington with sparkling new laws passing.

As it stands, should federal agents crack down on a retail outlet, grower, or producer of marijuana or marijuana infused products, they will receive no help from local law. Local law is there to uphold state and city laws, not federal ones unless they apply within the state as well (for example, murder is a federal law, but it is also a state law. Marijuana is against federal law, but not state law).

There are many theories as to how the federal law enforcement plans to react to I-502. However, for the moment they have stated that they are making not plans as of yet.

American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State has this to say about how the federal law may respond:

"Proponents of the new law look forward to working with federal officials in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation to ensure that it is fairly implemented. The law’s tightly regulated system will improve public safety and increase respect for law enforcement. We hope that federal officials will respect the will of our state’s voters and not enforce federal laws against Washington residents who are obeying state law."

Liquor Control Board

There is a lot up in the air right now, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board has a huge project on their hands which has to be completed by December 1st so that it may go into action by December 6, 2013.

The WSLCB will be in charge of determining:

  • What qualifications one must have in order to obtain a license to produce, process, and/or distribute marijuana and/or marijuana infused products
  • How many licenses may be granted based on the population, security and safety, and provision of adequate licensed facilities. This means that if there is a larger population in a county, then they need to issue enough licenses per producer/processor/distributor to compensate each producer/processor/distributor. So to ensure that a grower isn't over run with 18 different retailers, the state needs to make sure that there are enough growers. Or if there are too many growers, the state needs to make sure enough licenses are issued so they have some place for their crops to go.
  • The standard which marijuana and marijuana infused products must stand to. This will mean regulating potency, how it is grown, stored, produced, packaged, advertised, and labeled.
  • The maximum amount of marijuana a producer, processor, or retailer may have in their licensed facility.
  • The rates of marijuana and marijuana infused products which allow the people working within the business to generate enough money to make the licensing fees and taxes payable, but will still undercut the prices on the black market.
  • Set into motion a standard of advertisement so that it does not attract those who are under 21, but gives a fair chance to business supply this product.

Concerns My Research Was Unable To Address

Though I tried to hear everyone's concerns and questions, with everything so brand new, I was not able to find answers to everything. I intend to keep an eye open and will be as informative as possible in articles to come. Here are a list of valid questions and concerns:

  1. Trade in other nations - Will Washington State and Colorado be able to import/export to Canada and Mexico now that we are implementing similar laws?
  2. How will Federal Law interact with State Law?
  3. What Standards will be set in place to ensure quality, sanitation? What standardization will be implemented for potency?
  4. Will employers be able to test for marijuana before hire?


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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      What a great series. Thank you!

      $325 an ounce ($12/g x 27g = $325/oz) seem like a lot of money for the retail end of it. The street price in Washington is about $250 an ounce ( ), if I'm not mistaken.

      By the way, in one of those federal busts in California (despite it being legal under state law), the FBI took in several million dollars from one dispensary owner (he owned a half dozen clinics). This kinda of says to me that the whole medical marijuana thing is about money or getting high. (I know, there are some people who get relief from symptoms of MS, cancer, and other illnesses. But I've only met 2 of them so far!)

    • ThompsonPen profile imageAUTHOR

      Nicola Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Indeed! If you check out some of the other articles I have in the series, especially the opinion piece, I talk about how much the state can make simply by lifting this law. I have read since that it is estimated that Washington State will make $3 billion in it's first year. That's more than we spend on the prison system in a year, a thousand times more in fact, and it will reduce spending in the prison system. If we want out of debt as a country, and want to make money, this is how we do it.

    • johndnathan profile image

      John D Nathan 

      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas. USA

      Interesting article. These were several things I really did not think about. However, we are further along than we would be if we threw people in jail for simple possession.


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