time Tuesday, taking lessons from Colorado’s experience. Pot-laced
‘edibles,’ which can be especially potent, are one product getting
It’s a sharp contrast to Colorado, which legalized marijuana at the
same time as Washington (Nov. 6, 2012), but where pot shops have been selling the drug to recreational users since Jan. 1 of this year.
Colorado also issued 136 licenses to sell recreational pot before that date, although only about 40 began selling it in the first week of
The two states have been under scrutiny as they embark on test cases
in legalization, watched closely by everyone from legalization critics
to advocates pushing legal marijuana in other states, including Oregon
and Alaska. Observers are keeping tabs both on how smoothly the
rollout goes, as well as looking to the differences in the two states’
“We’re watching [the legalization process in Colorado and Washington] very closely, and it’s very useful,” says Peter Zuckerman, a spokesman
for New Approach Oregon, which has helped craft a ballot measure to
legalize recreational marijuana in Oregon that will be on the ballot
“From every measure that passes and gets implemented, we learn more.
We’re taking the best from Colorado and the best from Washington and
tailoring it to Oregon,” he adds.
The area of legalization under the most scrutiny in Colorado is the
sale of “edibles” — marijuana-laced chocolate, candy, and other food
items that critics say are appealing to children and are more potent,
especially for novice users, than customers might realize.
In March, a college student visiting from Wyoming jumped to his death
from a balcony after eating a pot cookie. Another man shot and killed
his wife after eating pot-laced Karma Kandy. Emergency rooms have
reported treating a number of children who became ill after
unintentionally eating marijuana edibles.
Last month, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about spending
a paranoid and hallucinatory night in her Denver hotel after eating a
few bites of a marijuana chocolate bar; a retailer later told her that
as a novice, she should have consumed just 1/16th of the bar.
In response to Colorado’s experiences, Washington last month issued
some new rules governing the packaging, labeling, and sale of edibles,
and it has yet to issue a license for a kitchen to produce such
“Edibles, labeling, dosage, and packaging will be big issues going
forward,” says Sam Kamin, a Denver University law professor who also
served on Colorado’s marijuana task force that made recommendations
about regulation. “You want to be sure people know what they’re
getting, that it’s clear, that they know how to use it. Those are
issues we need to grapple with … and that Washington State knows are
going to be important as well.”
Washington’s slower rollout of implementation — due largely to the
fact that it had a less-established medical marijuana structure in
place compared with Colorado, which had been regulating a commercial
medical pot market for several years — is just one of several
differences in how the two states have approached legalization.
Having a regulated medical marijuana system “was a huge advantage, and
a bit part of the reason we rolled out at least six months before
Washington,” says Professor Kamin. “We had this wealth of experience
and statutes on which we could draw.”
Colorado also allows “home grows” of up to six plants per person;
Washington does not. Colorado still has a thriving and highly
regulated medical marijuana market that operates parallel to its
recreational one (the first recreational licenses were given only to
existing medical dispensaries); in Washington, the medical marijuana
market exists as a sort of unregulated gray zone, with little legal
Colorado requires “vertical integration” of its industry, in which the
same entity grows, processes, and sells the drug (though the
requirement will eventually be phased out), while Washington prohibits
it. Washington has also set up a different tax structure, with a 25
percent excise tax at three different points: grower to processor,
processor to distributor, distributor to customer. Colorado has a 15
percent excise tax and a 10 percent sales tax, with localities also
able to impose their own taxes.
Over the next months and years, pluses and minuses to both their
systems should start to be clear, say observers. Allowing a home grow,
for instance, has meant that from the moment it was legal to use
recreational marijuana — Jan. 1, 2013 for both states — Colorado users
had a legal means to get it, provided they knew someone who grew their
own plants, says Professor Kamin. Because a key consideration in both
states was to eliminate the black market, providing that outlet was
important to those who drafted the measure.
On the other hand, he notes, going forward home grows could feed the
black market, and undercut some of the goals of having a regulated
system, such as generating tax revenue.
The limited supply of a legal market in Washington and the small
number of stores opening this week have led to long lines and high
prices. But Pete Holmes, Seattle’s city attorney, says Washington’s
“go slow” approach is wise.
“It’s safe to say that Seattle and Washington State have had a
progressive rollout,” Mr. Holmes says. “We’ve built the system from
the ground up, and I think it’s completely appropriate that it
on-ramps in a gradual manner. That way we’re more certain we’re
getting it right.”
As the system expands, he adds, it will provide opportunities to
ensure that things like computer-tracking systems, bookkeeping, and
other safeguards are all working the way they’re intended. “I think
we’ll be able to avoid some of the real problems Colorado