“The lazy-ass staff at Higher Ground would like to thank Steve Elliot and the Seattle Weekly for their excellent coverage of the ongoing trials and tribulations regarding the legalization of marijuana in Washington State. Steve Elliott edits Toke Signals, tokesignals.com, an irreverent, independent blog of cannabis news, views, and information.”
About the AuthorA Gonzo journalist hailing from New York City, Gonzo has contributed to pretty much every marijuana magazine and blog in the nation. He covers Medicinial, Growing and National News for Higher Ground. And since it’s not legal where he lives, he’ll remain anonymous. For now.
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By Michael A. Stusser — 8 years ago
The investigative reporters at Higher Ground caught State Senator buying a bag of marijuana red-handed – capturing the entire event on tape!
This was no Mayor Rob Ford scandal – instead, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who has been instrumental in crafting medical marijuana legislation since 1995, was one of the first customers to legally purchase pot at a recreational store today.
Check out some of the first day’s less scandalous coverage here:
By Zoe — 8 years ago
Past pristine green lawns, around a twisting forested lake road, where winding streets are lined with suburban mansions and shopping centers, people who live in Liberty Lake choose to get around by golf cart.
It’s something that has come to define the affluent community — situated almost exactly on the Washington-Idaho border. Golf carts sit in driveways here alongside luxury SUVs.
“People have said when they come to Liberty Lake that they feel like they have stepped into ‘The Truman Show,’” said Cris Kaminskas, a city councilwoman and the mayor pro tem. “People driving their golf carts, people going to the movies on Friday night.”
This is a family-driven, churchgoing town. And one, Kaminskas said, that is not on board with marijuana legalization.
As the state liquor control board scrambles to license legal marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, municipalities across Washington are deciding which side of the pot game they’ll play on — with remarkably different routes being taken. In January, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released an opinion that, despite the passage of Initiative 502 statewide, cities are free to make strict zoning rules or ban pot businesses altogether. Moratoriums and outright bans on pot sales in cities across the state quickly followed. Retail pot stores are expected to begin opening in July.
Last week, Marysville — a city just one hour north of Seattle — passed a ban on recreational marijuana businesses there, joining a handful of other cities in the state that are turning a cold shoulder to pot.
And cities like Liberty Lake — where voters didn’t favor I-502 — are leaning in that direction too. Earlier this year, Kaminskas and other city council leaders here passed a six-month moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana. And if the council makes a decision this summer to ban stores and processors there, anyone with a state-approved license to sell weed will have to go elsewhere. Currently, six licenses with Liberty Lake addresses are pending approval by the liquor control board.
Unlike alcohol prohibition in the early 1900s, this isn’t about use, Kaminskas said; it’s about city identity. Marijuana stores in an affluent bedroom community like Liberty Lake doesn’t make sense, she said.
“We are the first stop coming in from Idaho. If there are people from Idaho coming to buy their marijuana, this is where they are going to stop,” she said. “Personally, I don’t want Liberty Lake to be known as the tourist destination to buy your marijuana. That’s just not what our city is about. Our city is about family, clean, green. It just doesn’t fit.”
Undercutting state law
But framers of Initiative 502 say it really shouldn’t be up to individual communities to decide on something that passed statewide.
Alison Holcomb, the architect of I-502 and the criminal justice director for the state ACLU, said passage means the state liquor control board needs to ensure adequate access to marijuana in order to undercut the black market. Local bans on recreational sales gets in the way of that idea.
And she believes local bans are not legal.
“[Initiative 502] specifically required that the Washington State Liquor Control Board determine the number of retail outlets to be licensed per county,” Holcomb said. “Obviously, allowing counties to ban licensed marijuana businesses altogether would make it impossible to provide adequate legal sources to undercut the black market.”
Holcomb also points to the state Uniform Controlled Substances Act. That law says local laws that are inconsistent with the requirements of state law are essentially null and void.
Holcomb said prohibition on pot by municipalities undercuts the entire intention of I-502.
“It’s shortsighted. There’s this idea that somehow by eliminating legal, regulated businesses in their cities or towns, they’re going to stop marijuana from coming into their communities,” she said. “We’ve got 75 years of experiences that says that’s absolutely not true.”
No local benefit?
In Colorado, which also recently legalized marijuana, Amendment 64 explicitly allows localities to ban marijuana businesses. A law passed the following year provides that 10 percent of a new marijuana tax will be distributed to local governments that allow retail sales, proportionate to their share of sales tax revenues.
In some Washington communities where moratoriums are in place, city officials say they are taking issue with the idea that enforcement, regulation and the problems they say come along with legal pot fall on local government and law enforcement yet they receive little or no financial assistance from the state.
In February nearly 100 mayors signed a letter asking Gov. Jay Inslee to share a slice of the tax revenue from pot sales. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes recently wrote an editorial saying that tax sharing with cities that allow marijuana business is one key way to ensure the black market goes away. As of now, though, Holcomb said about 80 percent of tax dollars go directly to drug prevention, treatment, research, education and evaluation.
Kaminskas said the lack of tax revenue sharing definitely plays into her opinion on restricting marijuana sales in Liberty Lake.
“Frankly, none of the cities will get any additional tax dollars from the state to fight any crime that happens because of [marijuana],” she said. “Businesses with a lot of cash, businesses with some drugs? It’s inevitably going to happen.”
Town blazes different trail
But Washington cities that allow for recreational pot sales will benefit from local sales taxes — and that’s something that communities like North Bonneville are banking on. Unlike Liberty Lake, tiny North Bonneville — which sits on the Columbia River, just across the water from Oregon — is hoping to sell lots of pot.
The 1,000-person bedroom community less than an hour from Portland, Ore., wants to sell pot itself. Mayor Don Stevens said the logic there is that if the city sells marijuana, it controls the business and gets more money.
“There was some concern that with a private party coming in, they’re obviously going to be a businessperson, so the bottom line will be profit margin,” he said. And with North Bonneville in control, “there’s a more community look at the whole process.”
Stevens said the city government could decide to not sell some of the more potent strains of marijuana. And proceeds from pot sales in North Bonneville would go toward proving a better quality of life for residents there.
“We’ve got streets that need to be paved. We’ve got stuff that every small community needs to pay for and less and less money to do those things,” he said. “This isn’t just a money grab.”
But unlike Kaminskas, Stevens said he would like to see his town become a hub for marijuana tourism. Since the news of North Bonneville’s intention to sell pot itself, his phone has been ringing with offers to start Napa Valley–style pot tours there.
He has even seen new businesses start to relocate to North Bonneville.
“We’ve got a guy right now in town who actually is a restaurateur by trade, and he’s been looking for somewhere to open a new restaurant,” Stevens said. And he’s planning to give pot tourists what they want: a brand-new North Bonneville pizza joint.
“There are going to be a lot of people,” Stevens said, laughing, “with the munchies.”
Never Fear, The Pot Will Appear: Everything You Need to Know About Washington’s Recreational Roll-OutBy Michael A. Stusser — 8 years ago
The moment in history has arrived – enabling citizens to walk into a store and LEGALLY buy a bag of marijuana! But hold on a sec…
If there’s any way you can wait a few days to buy your legal weed from a recreational store in Washington State, you should. Seattle’s first retail pot shop, Cannabis City, is going to be a mob-scene when the doors open at (high) noon – and then they’re gonna run out of marijuana. The same will be true with the other 23 stores given retail licenses by the state today.
Though Washington State made weed legal a year and a half ago with the passage of Initiative 502, it’s taken some time to fine-tune the details. State agencies have had to vet growers, deal with inspections (now there’s a fun job!), quarantine herb before it could be shipped, and grant licenses to retailers who then had to install security cameras, tinted windows, pot-tracking software(!) and hopefully a Slurpee machine! (Imagine if they ran these kinds of background checks for folks trying to buy firearms!)
Right off the bat, there will be extremely limited supplies for ganja, as only 79 growers got the permits (from over 7000 applications!), and most those harvests won’t come in until late this month. So if you were looking forward to the PowerPurpleKushBerryCrunch that won the Cannabis Cup, yer gonna be waiting a bit longer. But hey – all good things are worth waiting for – besides, that SuperChronicHydroponic stuff will put you on the couch for days on end. Moderation, man! Prices will start high (up to $400 an ounce – ouch), but like Teslas, Furby dolls and the Galaxy S5, come down over time. Besides, would you rather pay $25 for a legal gram, or go black-market style, potentially rooming in the tank with Big Bubba while funding Mexican cartels and an over-crowded and money-sucking prison system?
Oh – and those Reefer’s Peanut Butter cup brownies you were so excited to try – that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon either. No edibles have so far been given the green light in Washington, as the process for licensing kitchens has been painfully slow. (Part of the debate has been a good one, with lawmakers wishing to make sure THC-laden edibles and sodas are not targeted to kids and that labels are clear enough even for Maureen Dowd to understand.) While I like the idea of child-resistant packaging, it’s hard enough for non-stoned adults to open a damn aspirin bottle, so I do hope they don’t make things too difficult…
Within a month or so, things will be running as smooth as the cool-kids have it goin’ on in Colorado, with varied and plentiful products, and more tax dollars than ever to blow on items like roads, infrastructure, and, hopefully, drug education and teacher’s salaries. Unlike Colorado, a major hurdle in Washington that has never been addressed is the way medical marijuana dispensaries will be treated. As of now, the myriad of retail regs are not being applied to these long-standing dispensaries, causing hell and havoc for many card-carrying marijuana patients who are truly in need and benefit greatly from the medicinal uses of weed.
The good news for those who do have marijuana cards – the strange gray-area they currently reside in allows them to purchase edibles of all-kinds – including licorice chews, gourmet chocolates and marijuana-infused hard candies. Not that I’ve tried any…
When it comes to the marijuana movement, it’s important to keep the mellow in mind, and visualize the Big Picture. As of this very moment: two States have legalized weed, and 20 more are scheduled to vote on the issue in the next two years. Like marriage equality, it’s going to happen – we just need the naysayers, Bible-thumpers and right-wing fundamentalists to come to their senses or, more likely, succumb to the will of the people – and the democratic process.