I just puffed my last bit of hash oil, which is, coincidentally, a supply I won't be able to replenish at a legal pot store if the Washington State Liquor Control Board has its way. This morning the liquor board posted these draft rules for implementing Initiative 502, the cannabis legalization initiative passed by voters last fall. And the big shocker: The draft rules call for a ban on retail sales of hash, hash oil, and other concentrates.
This means that legal tokers will still need to obtain their hash on the black market or, if they prefer a gray market, obtain a medical cannabis authorization, usually for $75-200. The liquor board's reasoning for the ban is contained in draft WAC 314-55-079:
Marijuana extracts, such as hash, hash oil, shatter, and wax can be infused in products sold in a marijuana retail store, but RCW 69.50.354 does not allow the sale of extracts that are not infused in products. A marijuana extract does not meet the definition of a marijuana-infused product per RCW 69.50.101.
"That's a terrible decision," says dispensary operator Eugene, who preferred we not publish his last name or business name for fear of receiving a DEA letter. "We are kinda known for our bubble hash around here." Eugene tells me that hash is "decent part of our business," with 20-40 percent of customers interested in concentrates at some point.
As we've written about before, where hash oil falls under I-502 definitions is a subject of debate. It seems clear that hash oil is "marijuana" but retailers can't sell "marijuana," only "useable marijuana" and "marijuana-infused products." An infused product is legally defined as follows:
People lose lots of things on the bus—like pot. And when those things are illegal, of course, bus drivers don't return them. But given that Washington State voters legalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana last year, now, apparently, pot needs to go back to its rightful stoner. King County Metro issued a "policy bulletin" this week concerning unattended pot found on the bus (.pdf), adding a new chapter to their drivers' policy manual that reads as follow:
Marijuana: If the quantity is less than one ounce, treat it as a normal lost and found item. If you are uncomfortable having this on your coach, call the coordinator. A district supervisor, if available, will respond and transport the item to lost and found. If the quantity is clearly more than one ounce, call the coordinator and ask for assistance from Metro Transit Police, who will meet the coach and take possession of the substance. If you are unsure of the quantity, call the coordinator and let him or her know that you are unsure.
Elections have consequences—wonderful consequences!
"Think of the lines outside lost and found every morning looking to claim their lost weed," says Slog tipper Doug. So remember, Seattle, if you left your weed on the bus, try calling Metro's lost and found line.
Last month, KPLU ran a story about a local credit union that accepted medical cannabis bank accounts. Under the sensational headline, "Local credit union tries on being banker to the pot industry," the head of Verity Credit Union admitted the business had opened accounts for up to fifteen medical cannabis dispensaries, but was uneasy about opening more.
Now, thanks to the story—and specifically the headline—Bill Hayes tells me Verity has changed its policy and is closing all medical cannabis bank accounts. "The headline on the interview on KPLU’s website indicated that Verity wanted to be the banker for the pot industry. This conclusion was not an accurate statement of the Credit Union," writes Hayes. "Since there is nothing in our Credit Union’s strategic plan dealing with the cannabis industry, I realized that I had given the wrong impression during the interview."
Hayes then re-consulted Verity's attorney and personally made the decision to reverse course, to stop accepting new pot businesses, and to cancel current medical cannabis bank accounts. "While we have always monitored these accounts closely, I felt that in order to continue servicing these accounts, we would have had to perform significantly greater monitoring activities. I do not believe that we have the resources nor the expertise to do this. Thus, we decided to close the medical cannabis accounts."
The move affects 13 customers, some of whom opened accounts a just few weeks before the KPLU story aired. "I feel bad for these folks," Hayes acknowledges. "We were the only game in town for them."
Running a cash-based business won't be a new thing for affected customers. "Most of them were operating like this before," Hayes says. He believes banking is a key hurdle the state must address to make its cannabis legalization law work. "They'll want these folks to have financial institutions."
Hayes says he doesn't know whether Verity will open accounts for legal cannabis businesses licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. "Until the state and federal government get aligned, for financial institutions it's difficult to deal with this right now."
Posted by news intern Ansel Herz
The mostly white, mostly sober face of the Seattle Police Department is changing. More Seattle police officers may have more melanin and more cannabinol according to new hiring guidelines issued today.
The force is currently 76% white. In the next five years, at least 300 police officers need to be hired to replace those finishing out their careers. The department says it's partnering with Atlantic Street Center, Filipino Community of Seattle and El Centro De La Raza in order to hire more people of color.
Policy on pot has also been changed. Previously, anyone who'd used marijuana more than 25 times or smoked in the past three years was disqualified. Interim Chief Jim Pugel softened the restrictions, so that new recruits are only barred from having smoked marijuana in the year prior to hiring.
I didn't understand the thinking behind this, until Sergeant Whitcomb from SPD explained: "Keep in mind, if they smoked seven or six months ago, they would have been doing it when it was illegal...so we wanted to make sure that the relaxed hiring standards are reflective of and driven by I-502."
SPD doesn't want to eliminate good candidates for doing something that's legal in Washington, Whitcomb said. He said to expect the pot policy will be reevaluated in December. By then, it will have been a year since marijuana was legalized and "state distribution will be up and running."
Imagine: cops speaking at a pot rally! It's happening this Saturday, when both Pugel and Whitcomb will be speaking, along with our own Dominic Holden, at the Cannibas Freedom March. Find all the details in our handy News and Politics Events calendar.
...but sometimes I can't help myself. An ongoing email exchange:
Hope you get AIDS Fagget
Best illiterate than a cock sucker with AID. Hope you get AID fag.
Let me help you with that: "Better illiterate than a cocksucker [one word!] with AIDS. Hope you get AIDS, fag."—Dan
Eleven medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle received letters from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration yesterday, ordering them to shut down within 30 days or risk having their properties seized. Details on the Seattle dispensaries targeted by the DEA come from Kiro:
They all received letters advising them that the manufacture and distribution of a controlled substance was illegal under federal law.
U.S. law takes precedence over state law allowing the dispensing of medical marijuana. It's unclear why 11 dispensaries were singled out.
“These letters suggest that if my clients remain in business, they could lose their companies, their homes, their cars, basically every piece of property that the Feds consider an asset,” said Seattle attorney Kurt Boehl in a letter (.pdf) responding to the DEA's threats yesterday. Boehl represents three of the affected access points, including Wallingford’s Truly Helpful Collective.
“We strictly followed Washington’s Medical Marijuana Law [RCW 69.51A],” says Arasp Khoshkhoo, a dispensary owner. “We had business licenses from the City of Seattle and the State of Washington. We paid our taxes. We did everything any other legitimate business would do.”
A number of dispensaries located in California are also either under investigation by the DEA or are being pressured to close, reports SFGate.com.
The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) sent a letter to the city last month asking them to deny Hempfest's permit this year, due to concerns that it has "outgrown Myrtle Edwards Park as a safe and appropriate venue."
"The noise, trash and traffic congestion resulting from an event of this size—over three days—has a direct negative impact on the thousands of residents who live within a 1⁄2 mile radius," says the letter, part of a bulleted list of concerns cosigned by the Belltown Business Association and Uptown Alliance that they want Hempfest and the city to address.
The letter asks the city not to permit Hempfest at Myrtle Edwards Park unless some conditions are met—including limiting Hempfest's attendance, permitting it for only one day, and improving traffic control, police patrols, and trash pickup in the neighborhood. (A PDF of their letter is here.)
But as combative as the letter sounds, DSA spokesman James Sido says it arose only because Hempfest came to them directly asking for feedback about the event—DSA's "sole focus," says Sido, "was to give them any kind of feedback or constructive criticism that we could." He continued, "It's not a letter saying 'Hempfest needs to end now.' It's 'Hey, let's see if a better venue can be found.'" I told him it sounded like a little more than just feedback, and he replied that there's a "chance that it could come off as more critical than intended."
Hempfest director Vivian McPeak, who did not return calls for comment, sent a letter in response to DSA, addressing their points one by one—Hempfest is a boon to the local economy, its participants do clean up after themselves, and, most importantly, they've already "examined all park venues and the Seattle Center repeatedly in past years," as recently as 2012, and they're sure that Myrtle Edwards and its surrounding park areas are the right fit. (PDF of that letter here.)
Essentially: Hempfest asked the neighborhood for feeback, DSA's feedback was "Don't hold it here," and Hempfest counters that there's nowhere else to hold it and they're gonna keep having it there, thank you very much. On the city's part, Keblas told The Stranger by e-mail this week that as long as Hempfest fulfills permit requirements, "it is the City's intention to issue a permit for Hempfest this year by June 1st," and that will include "a cover letter from the City that address concerns from all parties."
But this is a neighborhood fight—over garbage, drugs, free speech—that's been a long time coming, and it's far from over.
This morning state representatives voted 6-3 to approve to change the state's definition of marijuana in order to help state prosecutors prove marijuana-related cases in court. The vote on HB 2056 took place during an emergency meeting of the House Government Accountability and Oversight committee, during which county prosecutors argued that it was nearly impossible to prove what was marijuana in a crime lab or court.
You see, last year's passage of Initiative 502 defined "marijuana" as all parts of the marijuana plant "with a THC concentration greater than three percent on a dry weight basis." Anything with less THC content, as Ben Livingston notes in this week's paper, is simply considered unregulated cannabis. However, today prosecutors argued that the definition didn't take into account the total concentration of THC in a plant—both the psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and the lesser-known THCA (tetrahydro cannabinolic acid), which converts to THC with heat. That means that some plants with a high total THC concentration didn't meet the definition of marijuana, prosecutors explained.
HB 2056, which was drafted by the Washington Prosecutors Association, changes the definition of marijuana to include this total THC count when determining whether a substance is marijuana. I have a call in to Alison Holcomb, an ACLU lawyer who drafted I-502, to find out her take on the change.
Now that the bill's passed out of committee, legislators are looking for leadership pull it to the floor for a vote before the regular session ends on April 28.
Last Thursday, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) suspended the medical license of Dimitrios "Dr. Jimmy" Magiasis from 4Evergreen Group, perhaps the state's most prolific medical cannabis authorization clinic. A provider lookup on the state's web site confirms the suspension.
DOH found that Magiasis diagnosed 109 of 110 patients he saw at Hempfest 2011 as having a "terminal or debilitating medical condition" that may be benefited by medical pot, in examinations averaging under 15 minutes. After investigating for nearly a year, DOH charged Magiasis with substandard care last August, and the naturopath continued to sign authorizations while fighting the charges, according to medical marijuana cooperatives I've interviewed. Co-worker Dr. Carolyn Bearss also had her license suspended in November for working in the same Hempfest booth.
As part of last week's DOH action, Magiasis agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and refrain from issuing medical cannabis authorizations for 48 months if he wants to be re-licensed.
Is This a Problem for Patients?
As someone holding an authorization signed by Magiasis at 4Evergreen, I am concerned about my legal status and whether he will testify in court if any of his patients are prosecuted. Local medical cannabis attorney Douglas Hiatt tells me there is no need to be concerned, that patients with Magiasis authorizations need not worry. "If the patient has a bona fide qualifying condition, they should be fine with a good lawyer," Hiatt says. The real question, he asks, is "Does the patient have a qualifying condition?"
Aaron Pelley, an attorney who represents several medical cannabis collectives, agrees that the suspension does not, in itself, invalidate a patient authorization, but he says the bigger question is, "Do you want to call that doctor to testify for you, should you be charged?" Pelley worries that the authorizations have been "tainted," that they simply look bad if one ends up in court. "I don't know which authorizations this guy wrote are questionable. So I have to advise not to accept those signed by this doctor."
Earlier this week, Seattle-area cannabis entrepreneurs convened on the Lake Union waterfront for a night of business networking and a panel of pontificating pot people. The National Cannabis Industry Association presented a Q&A with state representative Roger Goodman (D-45), Rick Garza from the liquor board, Steve Davenport from the state's new pot consulting team, and business attorney Hillary Bricken. Here's some interesting bits:
1. Rep. Goodman Predicts Revolution if Feds Nullify Legal Pot
Rep. Goodman is convinced the federal government is not going to intervene in Washington State's legal pot experiment. If they were planning to sue, they would have done it already, he says. The current federal response is "almost a silent message to Washington State: rock on."
Goodman thinks the feds will stand down in this pot showdown because they fear a cannabis-inspired coup—an overthrow of the American government. "One reason is fear of revolution," he says, arguing that a lawsuit by the federal government would almost certainly result in a nullification of the state law in the context of a states-rights-supporting popular sentiment in America. "If the Supreme Court says 'sorry Washington voters,' that will start a revolution."
Noting "I'm on your side in Olympia," Goodman told medical marijuana it's fucked. "I actually didn't say there would be no crackdown. If the federal government does enforce its laws, it will be on the largely unregulated medical cannabis industry." The solution is to "shrink the medical market dramatically," he believes. "Assuming medical patients don't need to be hoarding 24 ounces, we're going to look at changing that law."
His recommendation to medical cannabis companies: "If you're in the medical business now, you can probably just go into the 502 business."
Somewhere in the expanse of our website is our new pot guide—which is especially hard to find if you're looking at our website while baked. Lo, fellow wastrels, see what treasure it holds:
Don't Call Him the "Pot Czar": Mark Kleiman Is Advising the State on How to Run a Legal Pot Industry
A Few Little Pot Districts: Where Will Pot Retail Shops Be Allowed?
What Happens If the Feds Sue? Some Parts of Our Pot Legalization Law May Be in Limbo, Other Parts Will Remain Intact
Where to Stash Your Cash? State Will Need to Deposit Pot Taxes Somewhere
Rub It In: Impressively Effective (and Totally Non-High-Bestowing) Medicated Balms and More at the Whole Foods of Medical Marijuana
Will Pot Ruin Your Manhood? Cienna and Anna Investigate This Myth and Other Bullshit
Don't Smoke Pot: Vaporize It: Two Excellent Handheld Vaporizers
I'm Not Your Fucking Drug Mule: Things You Shouldn't Say to a Medical Marijuana Patient
The Green Pages: Pretty much all the pot businesses in town.
Cannabis Calendar: Things to Do While You're Baked!
By December 1, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is required to create rules to license marijuana producers, processors, and retailers. The agency started the rulemaking process for producers—pot growers—last December.
This week the board announced emergency rulemaking to ban pot from private smoking clubs, which may be licensed as such by the board or simply attached to a public bar with no liquor license of their own. This came after party-crashing Governor Jay Inslee got hot and bothered over the weekend by Gene Johnson's AP wire story on two such clubs.
It was while researching the proposed pot bar ban that I noticed on the board's web site that three weeks back the state opened the rulemaking process for marijuana retailers and processors very quietly, without announcing that fact to the more than 2,500 stakeholders on the I-502 email list they maintain. Instead, the board put the documents on a tucked-away web page, which they didn't even link from their I-502 Implementation site.
Why no love for pot retailer rules? Has the agency received all the input it needs from the producer rulemaking process, or the public forums it held?
Last Thursday, something interesting happened on TVW. The state’s new pot adviser, Mark Kleiman, told interviewer Austin Jenkins that the state’s marijuana math is way off. After admitting that his company, BOTEC Analysis, is an acronym for "Back Of The Envelope Calculation," Dr. Kleiman ran through just such a calculation in which he predicted the state could expect a maximum of $180 million in revenue—far less than the $250-450 million predicted by our state Office of Financial Management.
Kleiman said that the "estimate running around... was the top range that the revenue department put together, and everybody's sort of written that down as the number, that there's $450 million a year in [state government] revenue." But, he explained, "I think if they could bring in $100 million [the first] year they would be doing good work."
Kudos to Kleiman for injecting skepticism and conservative estimation into the daydream that is cannabis revenue forecasting. We need to set the bar lower, in part because the state knew, or should have known, that its pot revenue calculations were based on inflated numbers, math errors, and absurd estimates. It was a bill of goods sold to voters, and it likely helped legal pot succeed at the polls.
Analyzing the State's Data
I've gone through the state's data—and I've been begging them about faulty reasoning for the past few months—and this is why I think they had to have known that their marijuana math was bogus.
The problem began with oversize estimates for how much pot we consume (which, in turns, affects the estimates for tax revenues from all that pot). In March 2012, and again in August 2012, the Office of Financial Management released a mandatory fiscal analysis for Initiative 502. To calculate those tax revenues, OFM created a marijuana consumption worksheet in which they predicted a pot market requiring 188,000 pounds per year, a market which could generate a half billion dollars in tax revenue.
The media ran with those numbers. As a Seattle Times headline read, "State: Potential I-502 pot revenue double what supporters predict." The article stated we could expect upwards of $560 million in taxes. For the next six months, Initiative 502 proponents used the state's numbers to tout the predicted tax windfalls as a main reason to support the proposal.
But it turns out the state's Office of Financial Management intentionally inflated those numbers without disclosing that fact in the I-502 fiscal impact statement. In those reports, OFM wrote:
Frequency of consumption is estimated using the pattern contained in the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, 2006 Bulletin on Narcotics, Review of the World Cannabis Situation, page 48. The frequency of consumption by users ranged from a low of 18 percent consuming once a year to 3 percent consuming daily. Applying this consumption pattern to an estimated 363,000 Washington marijuana users, and assuming 2 grams of marijuana per use, the number of grams consumed annually is estimated at 85,100,000 grams.
To most people, especially people who don't use pot, these numbers may seem completely acceptable. But most pot smokers will recognize that two grams is not a typical average use. That's like smoking two joints in the morning and smoking two joints at night—which is a lot for all but the most seasoned pothead. Most stoners take a hit or two, which is closer to a quarter gram or less.
Three state senators have filed a bill to force medical pot dispensaries to get licensed through the Washington State Liquor Control Board—just like legal pot retailers. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom introduced SB 5887 earlier today, co-sponsored by Republican Senators Seve Litzow and Ann Rivers.
The bill would apply the legal pot licensing scheme to medical pot, but dispensaries would be restricted to serving authorized patients only. Growers would be required to pay a 20 percent excise tax on medical pot products, which would also be exempted from retail sales tax. The deadline for compliance would be August 31, 2014.
The bill would also put additional restrictions on health care professionals who authorize the medical use of cannabis. Pot docs would be required to include the pot recommendation in patient health care records along with a specific diagnosis of the "terminal or debilitating" condition which allows for it. They would also be forbidden from co-marketing with dispensaries, and they can't operate an "authorization mill" that provides no other health care services.
Senator Tom is in a "higher education" session for the next hour at least, and was unable to comment. Senators Litzow and Rivers were similarly unavailable for immediate comment.
A communications spokesman for Franciscan Health System, the Catholic hospital organization that runs St. Anthony in Gig Harbor, sent along this statement admitting that a hospital employee called the cops on a patient on Monday after smelling marijuana on him, as I reported yesterday. Scott Thompson writes:
At Franciscan Health System we take the health and well-being of our patients very seriously. In this case, one of the staff members at our Prompt Care facility in Gig Harbor was concerned that a patient may be impaired and would be operating his motorcycle after his appointment. Out of concern for the safety of the patient and other motorists, local law enforcement was contacted to investigate the situation.
We apologize that the patient may have been embarrassed by the response. We are investigating the situation further so we can ensure that future situations are handled in the best and most compassionate way possible.
The statement is vague and doesn't address whether the employee will be disciplined for apparently breaching Matthew Zimmerman's privacy. It also doesn't address the seeming double-standard applied to Zimmerman versus, say, a patient who smelled of booze. Would a nurse immediately call the cops on a patient smelling of booze? Or would she sooner call a cab?
Twenty-seven-year-old Matthew Zimmerman wasn't thinking about the little bit of pot in his pocket when he went in for a routine exam at a Gig Harbor hospital yesterday, because Washington State voters legalized marijuana possession last fall. Plus, he says, "I forgot it was there." But shortly after a nurse smelled it and confronted Zimmerman, an officer arrived at the scene to question him.
The incident raises alarms about someone reporting to police on what is now a perfectly legal activity, but it also raises questions about whether the Catholic-affiliated hospital may have breached medical ethics and privacy laws.
Zimmerman, who went to see Dr. Faron Bauer for reasons unrelated to his marijuana intake, says he was surprised when a nurse practitioner asked a seemingly innocuous question: Do you have any marijuana on you? In a phone interview today, he says he admitted when he remembered there was some pot "underneath my second jacket."
"She asked if I used marijuana and I said, 'Yeah, obviously,'" says Zimmerman, who does lighting and stage rigging for concerts. "She said that even with the [legalization] law out there, the doctor was not going to approve of my use of marijuana, and then she walked out."
Nevertheless, his doctor appointment went fine and his three grams of pot wasn't an issue—that is, until he stepped outside St. Anthony Hospital's Prompt Care facility and found a police officer waiting for him.
The Gig Harbor Police Department confirms that the hospital called yesterday about a man who allegedly was too high on marijuana to drive and dispatched an officer to the scene. "That was the hospital’s concern—that he couldn’t drive," explains Gig Harbor Police Department spokeswoman Debbie Eason. But the responding officer, Officer Gary Dahm, didn't file a police report because, as Eason explains, "When the officer found him, he determined that Zimmerman wasn't impaired. He could drive."
Critics protested the proposed new limit for THC in the blood last year. They said it would ensnare good, responsible drivers and slap them with DUIs they didn't deserve. They said pot makes people drive better. Seattlepi.com reports:
A Buckley man accused of running over a teen as he walked hand-in-hand with his girlfriend has been charged with vehicular homicide.
King County prosecutors contend Cody R. Money was high on marijuana and prescription painkillers when he drove into 16-year-old Justin Relethford on Halloween. Money, 20, is alleged to have had a blood-marijuana level nearly twice the legal limit hours after the fatal crash. ...
Money tested positive for oxycodone – a prescription pain medication – as well as marijuana during a blood draw conducted three hours after the crash, the detective told the court. Money is alleged to have registered an active THC level of 9.5, nearly double the 5 nanograms-per-milliliter standard set under the state’s marijuana decriminalization law.
This incident—this horrible tragedy, which also involved a cell phone and painkillers—occurred before Initiative 502 passed, thereby establishing a limit for THC in the blood, but that limit is there just for reasons like this: to remind people that you shouldn't drive stoned (on painkillers or pot). Still, it seems the defendant isn't even charged with DUI.
Every red blooded, non-Mormon American male has dreamt of getting filthy rich by getting people high. The moment marijuana use became legal for Washington adults last November was the moment hoards of half-baked marijuana enthusiasts began seriously contemplating opening their own legal grow operation, dispensary, delivery service, or circus-themed, marijuana-laced dessert parlor.
But launching a legitimate state business is more complicated than simply selling people weed—business owners must know about development zones, federal and state tax laws, even how to get a bank loan to sell federally-prohibited substance. Basically, they need a crash course at marijuana school.
Fortunately, Seattle now has such a school.
“We get you ready from the ground up—including giving you access to four or five different lawyers who specialize in working with marijuana businesses,” explains George Boyadjian, the man behind the Washington Cannabis Institute. Boyadjian started a similar institute four years ago in California because he liked smoking weed and had a background in business. Since then, he's explaned his marijuana school into Nevada, Arizona, and now Washington, where $300 buys you a spot in the two-day seminar. The next one scheduled for Seattle is on March 23. Boyadjian says the foundation of each class is teaching safe business practices. This includes presentations from tax attorneys, business attorneys, corporate attorneys, and criminal defense attorneys who educate participants on what could happen if they “go beyond the law,” as Boyadjian delicately puts it. The school also explains the differences between medical marijuana businesses and those that will be newly legal under Initiative 502, timelines for 502's implementation, and what to do in the instance of a federal raid.
“We’re not talking about how great marijuana is or what it does for patients, we talk about the stuff that people don’t want to talk about: The dangers and practicalities of the business,” Boyadjian says. “People need to hear this type of stuff. It needs to sink in that there are harsh realities with this line of work. This isn’t a regular industry—there is a thin line between going home at night and going to jail. It’s a very thin line.”
At a meeting of state attorneys general on Tuesday, US Attorney General Eric Holder was asked by Colorado's AG when they can expect an answer on the citizen-enacted legal pot thing. Politico reports that Holder responded thus:
"We’re still in the process of reviewing both of the initiatives that were passed. I would say, and I mean this, that you’ll hear soon. We are, I think, in our last stages of that review, and are trying to make a determination as to what the policy ramifications are going to be, what our international obligations are. There are a whole variety of things that go into this determination. But the people in [Colorado] and Washington deserve that answer and we will have that, as I said, relatively soon."
Intriguing to me is the statement about "policy ramifications" and "international obligations." Our primary international pot obligations stem from the UN Single Convention Treaty which regulates cannabis cultivation exactly as it does opium cultivation.
The treaty requires parties to designate government agencies—like the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board—to oversee cannabis production. One seemingly unworkable section requires these agencies to take physical control of all the pot and be responsible for any wholesale trading. Other than that, it seems like the cannabis regulatory system enacted by Washington State voters may comport with international law.
Colorado's law, which allows anyone to grow six pot plants without license, almost certainly does not comply with the UN requirement that cultivation must be licensed. But the commercial part of their law, which licenses growers through the state Department of Revenue, might fit within the Single Convention treaty's framework.
So what does Eric Holder's marijuana-inspired mumbling mean? Are the feds going to crack down on voter-enacted legal pot because of international obligations? Or are they going to find a way to comply with a treaty that requires cannabis production to be regulated quite similarly to Washington State law? Perhaps they will take a middle route, leaving alone the licensed systems but challenging the portions of Colorado's law that allow for unlicensed production?
The Seattle Home Show is happening through this Sunday, February 24, at CenturyLink Exhibition Center. Three things pot people might like to know:
Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online or at the door. Getting high first is recommended.
Overriding an initiative within months of voters passing it may seem drastic, but that's what state lawmakers are considering right now. Four ranking members of the Washington State Legislature have been scrutinizing Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana last fall. Among their potential revisions, they say the state could raise license fees by thousands of dollars for growers, cities could use more authority to ban pot stores, authorities could postpone the measure to stave off a potential federal intervention, and users could carry a tax stamp to prove their pot was purchased legally.
Olympia has shown little compunction in dismissing the will of voters in the past—in 2009, the legislature swiftly suspended an entire initiative dealing with home health-care workers. But tweaking voter-approved rules within two years of passage does require overcoming an obstacle: reaching a two-thirds majority vote of lawmakers.
Representative Christopher Hurst (D-Enumclaw), who chairs the state house Government Accountability & Oversight Committee, says amending I-502 would essentially require "unanimous agreement" from the legislature and governor. He was the chief signatory on a letter last month to the liquor control board, which is overseeing I-502's implementation, raising seven issues and asking questions about what lawmakers might change before the new pot rules take effect.
"People will say you are trying to slow this down, or stop it, but we are trying to fulfill the wishes of the initiative," says Hurst.
KIRO Television filmed people getting stoned—and then stoned-er—and put them behind the wheel to see how they did:
Washington State's new legal limit for driving stoned, according to the legalization law passed in November, is 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of whole blood. So KIRO let a regular user, a moderate user, and an infrequent user all smoke pot to exceed that limit and drive on a closed track as officers watched.
While they initially drove fine above that 5 nanogram level—with some minor problems, including clipping a camera and going too slow—their driving got worse the more they smoked. They hit a cone and nearly hit a photographer. So this anecdotal experiment more or less confirms what science has shown before: Pot can compromise motor function. And while some people will look at this and scream that the 5 nanogram level is too low (because these three people didn't roll the sedan), it's worth pointing out three things: (1) THC and alcohol levels need to set the bar for infrequent users who are more likely to have trouble at lower dosages; (2) past scientific research shows crash risk increases above 5 nanograms; and (3) it's impairment officers are primarily after: cops make that clear in the video and there's been no spike in pot DUIs since the law took effect. It's also good to remember that after about two hours, all of these people's THC levels had plummeted from about nine times the legal limit to only about twice the legal limit, suggesting that stoners who wait four to six hours to drive will not only be better, more sober drivers, they'll likely be comfortably within the limits prescribed by law.
But the best part about all this? That there are two cops there monitoring the whole thing—just watching people smoke weed like it ain't no thing.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he isn't going to wait for the state to decriminalize pot possession, making it a violation rather than a criminal offense, so he's taking executive action. From his state of the city speech:
But we know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record. Commissioner Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen.
Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight. We’re changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most.
Right on, you crazy ol' anti-soda lady-doer.
Compare that to Bloomberg's predecessor, world's tightest rectum Rudolph Giuliani, whose marijuana enforcement was positively draconian. Giuliani instigated marijuana sweeps that drove arrests from a negligent handful to tens of thousands of busts a year—making pot possession New York's number-one "crime." Oh, and almost all of them were racial minorities.
Bloomberg is part of undoing that cinched sphincter's legacy.
Lots of people have sent me an alarming story on ThinkProgress that has Twitter atwitter and Facebook afacebook—and I totally get why they're worried. The piece by Nicole Flatow warns that "federal prosecutors will crack down on recreational marijuana dispensaries and growers even in states where they are legal."
Holy crap, right?
This crackdown reportedly came up when the Canadian magazine Macleans interviewed White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who talked about marijuana-legalization laws that just passed in Washington State and Colorado. If Kerlokowske really is saying that feds will bust state-licensed pot stores, then this would be understandably HUGE news. Up to now, the Obama Administration and the US Department of Justice have been deliberative—telegraphing nothing to officials from those states—so the question is, did Obama's minion spill the beans?
But don't rely on Flatow's characterization of the interview. Look what the Drug Czar actually said when asked about the two states:
You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined. They will use their limited resources on those groups and not on going after individual users.
Does Kerlikowske's remark actually, as Flatow claims, "state explicitly that the federal government will prosecute dispensaries and producers once they are licensed in Washington and Colorado"?
No. It just doesn't.
I'll explain why it doesn't say that in a second. But first: Media loves to scream THE SKY IS FALLING every time the feds make a move on pot. They claim the feds are putting the kibosh on the whole medical-marijuana thing every time there's a spate of raids. This makes people mistakenly believe that America's unpopular drug laws are insurmountable. But look: MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS STILL BOOMING. It's actually a growing industry, despite all the hysteria that the feds are shutting the whole thing down, rounding everyone up, and putting everyone in jail. Until the feds actually do that, bloggers and editors—especially of progressive media outlets—should hold off on their doomsday misreading of minor events and statements. Those stories might generate web traffic, but they're not helping their progressive agenda; they're deflating it.
So what's the drug czar's comment actually say?
Help us out, readers! The Stranger is trying to reach the former students of Bow Lake Elementary school, located in SeaTac, Washington, who were in Mr. Dodge's sixth grade class in 2001. If you don't remember the specifics, you may remember this part: being drafted into an anti-pot letter-writing campaign. (If you were one of those kids, e-mail us).
Sixth-grade teacher Jason Dodge asked his class to write letters to the editor to The Stranger, taking us to task for running a comic by Ellen Forney titled "How to Smoke Pot and Stay Out of Jail." We still have the stack of handwritten letters.
For example: "My teacher has brought in a newspaper a couple weeks ago," wrote a youngster named Ken. "I don't think it is appropriate to help people who smoke pot to get away with it." And the students, under Jason Dodge's letter-writing command, really stuck by their talking points. As another student put it: "Are you trying to make people get addicted to smoking so that they can get addicted and later on 'die'!"
Those kids would have been about 11 years old at the time, but now are in their early 20s—and pot is legal. We're wondering where Mr. Dodge's students are today, whether they still feel the same way about pot, and how they voted on Initiative 502.
If you are one of these former students, or know how to reach them, please send us an email with the headline "POT LETTERS."
A man is being charged with a felony for selling $5 worth of marijuana to undercover officers, King County Superior Court records show, even though he never offered to sell any pot in the first place. Only after being lured with cash did the defendant agree to sell a joint.
According to records filed in January by the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office, the incident began when two King County Sheriff's deputies—Officer Escobar and Officer Schwab—boarded a Metro line last July in Tukwila for "a covert bus ride." A 51-year-old black man who will remain nameless had also boarded the bus and struck up a "casual conversation" with one of the officers. That officer spontaneously brought up the subject of pot: "Detective Schwab told [the man] he was looking for marijuana." According the the report, the man asked how much marijuana the undercover officer wanted (it must be noted that this part of the report seems odd, because, as you will see, the man shows no interest in selling marijuana nor has marijuana packaged for sale). After Detective Schwab said he wanted to buy $20 worth of pot, the man "told Detective Schwab that he only had a joint." But the man did not offer to sell the joint, rather, he "offered to share it with Detective Schwab at the next bus stop," the report continues. "Detective Schwab declined to smoke with him but offered to purchase the marijuana cigarette from him to smoke later."
Finally, the man "agreed" to sell his joint for $5, the report explains, and officers arrested him. He reportedly told them that he "does not sell drugs and was only going to use the money to get to Tacoma."
I followed up today by calling the sheriff's and prosecutor's offices to ask about this case—did this advance public safety, was it a prudent and ethical use of resources? After all, here was a man who, despite a record for several low-level thefts in his lifetime, didn't bring up the subject of marijuana and didn't try to sell any.
"We don't necessarily know that he [was not trying to sell marijuana]," King County Sheriff's Department sergeant Cindi West told me. "It's kind of semantics here," she added, saying that when the suspect asked how much marijuana the officers wanted that it potentially indicated he was trying to sell drugs on the bus. "When it comes to Metro safety, smoking in a bus or near a bus, the deputies enforce that. In the big of scheme of things, it is not murder or robbery, but for people riding, day in day out, out these are the things that keep people safe on the bus." Then I asked how paying undercover cops to badger this man to sell his joint made buses safer—and something weird happened.
The line went dead.
There are few tax increases that are more of a political no-brainer than that proposed in HB 1789, a bill that would impose a 25 percent excise tax on the gross dispensary sales of medical marijuana. With the passage of I-502 it makes zero sense to create two parallel systems of legal marijuana retail, one taxed and regulated and the other not. If anything, the bill doesn't go far enough.
Now, I know there are some objections from within the medical marijuana industry. Of course there are. But I'm not going there in this post. This isn't a post about policy.
My point is that with the passage of I-502, and in the midst of a desperate revenue shortfall—and considering the traditional partisan divide on marijuana legalization—imposing a tax on medical marijuana should be a political no-brainer. And as such, HB 1789 represents an interesting test of Republican principles.
A sizable chunk of the state House and Senate Republican caucuses have signed on to Grover Norquist's pledge to oppose all tax increases at any time for any reason no matter the circumstances. Many other Republican legislators have vocally embraced this anti-tax orthodoxy without actually signing the pledge. But at the same time it is also Republican orthodoxy to oppose the liberalization of our marijuana laws.
So HB 1789 poses a political dilemma for Republicans, as there is zero argument they can make for opposing this tax other than it is one. So, do they stand by their no-new-tax pledge in defiance of all (Republican) logic and reason, thus proving their single-issue ideological rigidity? Or do they vote to approve this reefer tax (a tax that, if it already existed, their caucus would never, ever vote to repeal), thus proving that their absolute opposition to all tax increases isn't really absolute at all?
Think of HB 1789 as a sociological experiment. As sometimes happens in politics, lawmakers are faced with a bill in which their values conflict. How Republicans navigate this paradox will be a window into their psyches, and a demonstration of their willingness to govern.
My guess is that the majority of Republicans will oppose HB 1789 simply because it is a tax, and modern Republicanism is little more than an economic religion that abdicates reason in the name of faith. You might as well ask them to vote to proclaim Satan as their savior. But I sure do hope HB 1789 gets to the floor so we get to find out.
Posted by news intern Jocelyn Macdonald
A bill filed Tuesday in the Washington State House would vacate misdemeanor marijuana convictions for those who qualify, a direct response to voters legalizing possession last fall.
If passed, HB 1661 would work one of two ways: (1) Someone who pleaded guilty to a pot possession charge could apply to the court for a vacation of that criminal record, and, if eligible, that plea will be changed to not guilty and the case will be dismissed. (2) Someone who pleaded not guilty—but was convicted—can apply for the vacation and the court shall dismiss "the information, indictment, complaint, or citation against the applicant," nullifying the judgment and sentence. The bill's prime sponsor, Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle), added by email that if you meet the eligibility requirements, the judge is required to send you on your way to the sandy beaches of innocence.
What are those eligibility requirements? You must have completed the terms of your sentence, for starters. Among other disqualifiers, the court can't vacate a conviction if you have a DUI on your record, were found guilty of another drug charge within ten years of this charge, or have had a domestic violence conviction.
The bill has 21 cosponsors, two Republicans and the rest Democrats. What's the benefit if it passes? The court would be required to notify law enforcement and the FBI of the change in your record. The vacation of your record would be accessible only by law enforcement, and that past conviction couldn't be used to deny you housing, a job, or student loans.
When Initiative 502 was on the ballot last fall to legalize pot, the medical marijuana lobby screeched that a new threshold for driving high would give cops the ammo they needed to sweep the roads for innocent stoners. They claimed, without scientific evidence to back them up, that people who smoked pot a week before would be unjustly sent to the slammer after I-502 passed.
The Washington State House's Public Safety Committee is holding a hearing right now on drivers impaired by marijuana and the prominent testimony is that nothing much has changed. The law established 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the impairment threshold for drivers. (You can watch live on TVW.)
Thus far, Rob Sharpe of the state patrol has been talking about potential use of saliva tests to to determine intoxication levels (instead of blood draws in medical facilities, as state law has long prescribed for marijuana DUIs).
But prosecutors say that they've seen no notable shift in marijuana DUI cases since the measure took effect in December. Rachel Cormier Anderson, a lawyer in the Seattle City Attorney's office, says, "I-502 hasn't changed much. We have been filing marijuana DUIs since forever. We have not in the City of Seattle received a marijuana DUI since the law went into effect." She adds that prosecutors are waiting on lab results in a couple cases.
Amy Freedheim of the King County Prosecutor's Office also says their practices have not changed since the law passed—the office charged pot DUI cases before the initiative passed and they continue to. "We look at the totality of an incident," says Freedheim, citing the circumstances of the crash and condition of the driver, not just the THC levels in drivers. She adds that collecting a blood sample within two hours of an arrest (while active THC levels are highest) will be challenging. Two cases have been filed in King County since the per se standard in I-502—that 5 nanogram limit—went into effect, she says.
Patricia Fulton, a defense attorney, adds that she has not seen any change in marijuana DUI cases in her practice.
Upcoming: discussion about science on driving under the influence of marijuana. (I've written about pot DUIs to death over here.)