By Brad Knickerbocker
With the eyes of other states — and the U.S. Justice Department — upon
them, officials in Washington State have issued draft regulations for
growing, distributing, and selling marijuana meant for recreational
The details announced this week include the number of shops that will
be able to sell pot around the state (334, with locations based on
population), the number of shops or growing facilities that a single
business can operate (three per individual or corporation), the size
of marijuana “grows” (30,000 square feet, or about three-quarters of
an acre), the kinds of security systems that must be in place (alarms
and video surveillance), and how far such shops must be from schools,
parks, and other places where children may gather (1,000 yards).
In all, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the
agency tasked with developing polices and regulations, the overall
harvest for next year will be capped at 40 metric tons, which pencils
out to about 8.25 grams annually per adult in the state.
That harvest level could change in the following years. The idea is to
grow enough to compete with the illegal marijuana market without
producing so much that it gets transported to other states where the
drug remains illegal.
Washington State’s new law is the result of a ballot measure last year
— I-502 — that legalized recreational marijuana. Coloradoans passed a
Law enforcement officials in the state are gearing up for enforcement.
“I supported I-502 last year because as a former narcotics detective,
I can say with full confidence that the War on Drugs has been a
failure,” Sheriff John Urquhart of King County (which includes
Seattle) said in a news release.
“There has to be a better way,” said Sheriff Urquhart, who is
scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee next
week. “As far as marijuana is concerned, the citizens of Washington
have decided legalization for personal use appears to be that ‘better
way.’ Law enforcement needs to respect their decision.”
Cannabis is still illegal under U.S. drug law, and this has been a
point of contention between the federal government and state officials
easing up on criminal enforcement — especially in those 20 states and
the District of Columbia where marijuana production, sale, and use for
medical purposes has been legalized.
A big step in relieving that state-federal tension came last week when
the U.S. Justice Department announced that it would leave it to states
to regulate individual marijuana use, recreationally or for medicinal
purposes, as long as states “implement strong and effective regulatory
and enforcement systems.”
But this doesn’t mean Uncle Sam is backing off entirely.
“If state reinforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust… the
federal government may seek to challenge the [state] regulatory scheme
itself in addition to continuing to bring individual enforcement
actions, including criminal prosecutions…” states the Justice
Department memo to U.S. Attorneys.
Under the new federal guidelines, the federal government’s top
investigative priorities include preventing the distribution of
marijuana to minors; preventing sales revenue from going to criminal
enterprises, gangs, and cartels; preventing state-authorized marijuana
activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of
other illegal drugs or other illegal activity; preventing violence and
the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands; and preventing
the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under
Still, the trend in public opinion continues to move in the pro-pot direction.
In April, the Pew Research Center for the first time found majority
support (52-45 percent) for legalizing marijuana — a noticeable 11
percent increase in support just since 2010.
The Pew poll also found that a larger number of Americans — 60 percent
— agree that “the federal government should not enforce federal laws
prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal.”
Details remain to be worked out with the proposed regulations in
Washington State, and there could be legal challenges. As it is now,
some counties and cities where pot shops have been approved by the
state still outlaw such sales at the local level.
“A controversy that will certainly develop is whether cities and
counties can outlaw marijuana,” Ryan Espegard, a Seattle attorney who
specializes in cannabis regulation, told the Los Angeles Times. “And
can employers or landlords ban the use on premises? Can you be fired
for using in your spare time? These will be playing out in the next
year, next two years.”
One former Microsoft executive, who declared his intent to become “big
marijuana” by dominating the legal market, reportedly will challenge
the three-operation limit on individuals and businesses.
If all goes as planned with the licensing plans, recreational
marijuana could be sold in Washington State shops by next summer.