As we approach the end of the year, the states of Colorado and Washington are beginning to implement a legal marijuana market for the first time in the history of the United States. This moment has come at a time when acceptance of marijuana use and legalization is the highest it’s ever been. As citizens of the U.S., the superpower that has been at the forefront of the world’s War on Drugs, we are witnessing a transitional period between drug cultivation enforcement in the U.S. and the effect it will have on the rest of the world.
For each Block 4 issue of the Catalyst, I have decided to address the fascinating yet mysterious idea of a legal marijuana market that is actually becoming a reality in two states. Each issue of the Catalyst will feature a different article on legal marijuana markets and how they will affect the state where they are implemented, as well as the rest of the nation and the world. There are many aspects to regulating and monitoring a new industry such as this, so it is interesting to speculate about what is going to happen.
This week’s article on the legal marijuana marketplace will focus on how the states of Colorado and Washington are preparing for the coming year when the first recreational marijuana stores will begin to open. Certain departments of each state’s government have been made responsible for the implementation and creation of a legal marijuana market. The Marijuana Enforcement Division of Colorado’s Department of Revenue has overseen the medical marijuana industry since it was legalized and will now do the same for the recreational marijuana industry. Washington State Liquor Control Board has been given the task of regulating a legal marijuana industry in that state.
Each state government has adopted different procedures for creating these new marijuana markets. Colorado will have shops open up early next year, but only those that were formerly medical marijuana dispensaries. The Department of Revenue has been accepting applications from previous medical dispensaries since October, and in that month alone they received 136 applications. There have even been dispensaries already approved to open up retail sales to anyone over the age of 21 on Jan. 1, 2014. There is a pool of 550 medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado that are in “good standing” with the state that can apply for recreational sales.
The Liquor Control Board of Washington has adopted a different process of establishing a legal marijuana market. Pot shops in the state will not be open until May or June, but anyone who has lived in the state for at least three months that is over 21 can apply to open up a recreational store. There will only be 334 recreational shops that can be opened in the state, so it will be a race against time to see who will submit a successful application to be one of those special stores in one of the two new legal marijuana markets.
While each state is taking a different approach to implementing these new marijuana markets, they have both abided by one similar provision that was central to the passing of each state’s legalization bill to begin with. Initiative 502, Washington’s bill, and Amendment 64, Colorado’s bill, allowed for any community in the state to impose a ban or moratorium on recreational marijuana sales. 271 cities and towns along with 64 counties in Colorado had until the beginning of October to vote on a ban or moratorium. Four of the ten largest cities in the state – Colorado Springs, Thornton, Westminster, and Centennial – have all banned recreational sales outright; Lakewood, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Arvada, and Aurora are all waiting until 2014 to make a decision on whether to allow recreational sales. CC students will have to travel to Manitou Springs or Denver if they want to purchase recreational weed, but the drug will be available in towns such as Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride, Steamboat Springs, and Crested Butte. While recreational marijuana can’t be purchased in all places – indeed, it is banned in far more places than it’s allowed – there is still a new legal marijuana market in the state of Colorado.
In the state of Washington, there have also been a handful of communities and counties that have placed temporary holds on pot sales. The city council of Yakima has placed a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana, along with the city of Pullman and the counties of Colombia and Walla Walla. However, just as in Colorado, legal weed can still be purchased throughout the state. As Denver is the central marijuana hub of Colorado, Seattle is shaping up to also be a central location for recreational marijuana shops in Washington, with King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties containing over a third of the allowed 334 pot shops.
The U.S. has two legal marijuana markets that are waiting to open their doors for business. Once they do, there are going to be both positive and negative societal, economical, and cultural consequences for both states and their governments. Some will be predicted and anticipated, some will not. What is indisputable, though, is that this is a step in the right direction that must be taken to deescalate the War on Drugs and improve the lives of those who both use and distribute marijuana. Next week I will explore how having legal marijuana markets will impact the states of Colorado and Washington, along with the rest of the U.S. and the world. Legalize!