Legalized Marijuana in Washington State Part VI: An Opinion Piece
The first part of this series was meant to be the review/opinion. I began writing it and realized that there was a whole mess of research that I needed to understand before I made my informed and educated opinion known to the world.
This opinion is only meant to talk about the logic of the law. It is meant to address arguments for and against the law. It is not meant to spread the joys and wonderment, or evils and toxicities of marijuana. It is simply looking at the points we should all be looking at.
Sharing the Green
What does marijuana and money have in common? They are both green. And people who enjoy either or both can agree that the more there is, the happier they are.
The fact remains that we, as a nation are still crawling out of a recession. Times are hard, and we need to generate money. The legalization of marijuana is an excellent place to start.
Taxes and Fees
The initiative places a tax on each level usable marijuana goes through - tax to the grower, tax to the processor, tax to the distributor, and tax on the customer.
Some are concerned about the amount of taxation on each level, as well as the percentage that is being taxed. Right now, the taxing rate is at 25% on each level. That means that n the grower sells the product to the processor, 25% of the money earned is tax. When the processor passes along to the retailer, the tax is 25%,and when the retailer sells to the customer, there is a 25%.
This is a lot of money. However, it can do a lot for our state. This money is to be distributed between the Department of Social and Healthy Services (DSHS), Washington State University and the University of Washington State to fund research on marijuana, youth programs to prevent early introduction to marijuana and other substances, programs against substance abuse and educating to prevent substance abuse, the Liquor Control Board, The Basic Health Trust Plan account, Washington State Health Care Authorities, and bridge building programs.
These all seem like reasonable placement of this money to me for the moment. Eventually, there will of course be better placement for this funding, but one thing that the Liquor Control Board has to consider, and has considered is how the public will react to the placement of the money earned from a previously illegal substance.
I-502 passed with a 55% approval. That still leaves a massive chunk of Washington State (that did vote) unhappy with legalization. These people need to appeased. Certainly the money could go toward education in schools, but those who are staunchly against marijuana and everything it stands for would be outraged at the thought that a drug was teaching their children.
Another thing many are worried about is the price of marijuana. After all, we have all seen what these taxes have done to the price of our alcohol! Washington State is one of the highest taxed states when it comes to Alcohol at a rate of 20.5% - and then Washington has the audacity to tax marijuana 25%??? This is not as audacious as it may seem.
One of the goals for the Liquor Control Board is to ensure that the annual fees and taxes are worth it to those who have any part of the marijuana chain from grower to consumer, while still undercutting sales from those who operate on the black market.
The considered rate that the Liquor Control Board is looking at for the end consumer is $12 per gram of usable marijuana. This is not across the counter for baked goodies, tinctures, or anything of the sort, but for straight bud.
Now, this might just be worth it. Considering that the usual street value of marijuana is just that, $11-$12 a gram. Most bags of marijuana are sold in increments of $20. $20 worth of marijuana is more often than not weighed less than 2 grams, any where between 1.6-1.8 grams, causing the price to be a little under $12/gram. When one gets up to an eighth of an ounce of pot, charging $40, most dealers will weigh to about 3.5, making the price slightly over $11/gram.
So yes, it will be a little more expensive, but not that much more expensive than the street value, and the legalities of it will be worth the extra 50 cents a gram.
According to the Department of Corrections, Washington State spends about $345 million each year on prison inmates. This estimates to be about $95/day/inmate. This is money out of our taxes.
With the new marijuana initiative, it will mean less people in prison and as a result less money spent on prison inmates.
According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums Frequently Asked Questions Page, on average about 6,200 people go to federal prison on marijuana charges.
If instead those people had obtained a license for either growing, packaging, or distributing marijuana, in the first year they would have generated for Washington State $1,55,000. That is in the first year of them purchasing a license which is only $250. The next year, when the renewal fee is $1,000, those 6,200 individuals would have made for the state $6.2 million. That almost doubles what prisons spend on prisons in a year. That isn't even including the tax they would be paying on their product they would legally be processing, producing or distributing.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that only criminals will grow and sell marijuana. But is is the marijuana laws which makes a lot of people criminals.
DUI, Across the Liquor Board
Many are concerned about the driving aspect of marijuana being legalized. Some say that it will cause more accidents and make the roads more dangerous. Others are upset about the amount that one can have introduced into their bodies to classify them as too intoxicated.
A misconception about the set legal limit is that it is measuring THC in its entirety. As the law now stands, one can have no more than 5 nanograms of THC concentrate per milliliter of blood. This seems tiny. I agree. However, the misconception is that it is not simply THC they are measuring. They are measuring the active ingredient of THC in the blood, which only sticks around for 2-4 hours.
This also does not mean that cops are going to be pulling over people all willy-nilly for the sake of checking to see if drivers are high. They never did that before, why would they start now that marijuana is legal?
The police must have a reason to believe that the driver is under the influence, must have reasonable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence of a drug, and must have a valid reason for pulling the driver over. Even when this happens, and all three of those necessities are met, the cop him/herself cannot conduct the blood test. It must be done by a medical professional. The officer has two options: they can take the driver to a medical clinic or call in an ambulance. Both of these options are expensive, the ambulance costing more than the ticket the driver would pay if found to in fact be over the legal limit. And both require a dedication of time on the officer's part.
This might get revised as a result. There may be officers who may not want to bother going through the process.
If one is found to be over the legal limit, the result is the exact same as a drunk driver: 24 hours in jail and a $350 fine, for the first offense.
Yes I think that the limit might be too low, but then again, I've never seen how many active ingredients of THC are coursing through my blood after a hit of pot, or a bowl, or a joint, or a brownie, or anything. I don't know. I cannot say if it is too low or not. However, what I can say is that most people when they drive and are under the influence of marijuana, are generally slower, more cautious drivers. If anything, I believe there will be more granny-drivers on the road.
At the end of the day, I believe marijuana should be legal simply because it is a plant and it's far harmless than many of the things we currently have legal. Cough syrup is legal, but if abused it can do more harm than good, and a person can get high. Alcohol kills millions annually, as does tobacco. There is currently no record of marijuana being a cause of death.
Many people just don't feel right about marijuana, and that is fine. To each their own, and I respect them for that. However, I hope that their decision is educated and informed. Me, personally, I'm against eating meat. I don't think it's cruel, but I don't think that the body gains much health benefits from it. However, I'm not going to start a petition to enact a law saying that no one should be able to eat meat. It is my choice, and I'm not going to tell people that they have to obey what I have decided for myself, and I don't think any one else should tell people what they can or can't do, as long as it isn't harming anybody else.
This has many benefits. It will help generate income for the state, and set and example to other states. It will help our prison systems, and the money will be going toward educating the public and to research on marijuana. And don't forget the bridges! The Bridges will benefit too. Never forget the bridges. After all, they are what bridge the gap between planes of existence.