On the December 6th 2012, marijuana was legalized for recreational use in the state of Washington, a month after citizens opted to vote for decriminalization of the drug. At this time, public abuse of the substance continues to carry a $100 fine although general complaints over ‘mixed messages’ on this front have led many to believe that this will not be the case for too much longer. Is it time for a firm stance to be made? And what are the ultimate upshots of such legislation going through in Washington? How soon will it be before other states follow suit?
As the news broke on December 7th, hundreds of enthusiasts made their way to the Seattle’s famous Space Needle Tower to celebrate their state’s innovative stance armed with bongs, pipes and hand-rolled joints amid a hazy atmosphere of reggae music and happy chanting. The law legalizes possession of up to 16oz of solid cannabis-infused goods – such as brownies or cookies – and up to 72 oz of weed in liquid form, as well as the pure form of the drug itself. Within the year licensed stores throughout the state will be permitted to sell the drug at a tax rate of 25%, a considerable step forward given the situation just 12 months ago. The state Liquor Control Board, along with agriculture and public health officials, has until next December to set up a regulation system.
‘A boost for the economy’
So what are the expected effects of the legalization? Experts are predicting a very favorable impact on Washington’s economy – experts believe the in-store taxation could bring the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new revenue, but the justice department has not yet reported whether it will sue to block the regulatory schemes proposed in the legislation. Any decision to crack down on other states with liberal drug laws across the United States by government institutions could affect Washington’s plans to raise tax revenues from the licensed and controlled marijuana market.
Cannabis has been legalized for medical use in Washington since 1998, but permission for use recreationally could finally spell an end to the harmful strains and dangerous mixing of a drug whose regulation will render it far safer for casual use – its illegality made it potentially destructive but tighter restrictions, as have been applied to alcohol for decades, will clean it up and make it safer for public consumption.
One worry relates to the role of federal legislation in the matter – how can drug-law authorities enforce their position in an individual state when national law states otherwise? The decision as to how to proceed is still highly unclear, but there is remains a general consensus that the authority of such agencies will diminish in the face of more liberal state legislation on marijuana.
Supporters of the Washington law insist it does not encourage or require anyone to break federal law, yet marijuana remains illegal under US law. That means federal agents can still arrest people for it, and it is banned from federal properties, including national parks, military bases and other public locations. Such divergences need to be resolved in the coming year, otherwise various problems could arise.
How many other states will follow Washington’s lead? The citizens of Colorado passed their consensus in November and the law came into effect in late January; New York has a legalization bill currently pending, Pennsylvania reintroduced their proposition as recently as last week and over 10 states (including Oklahoma and Iowa) have legislation bills in progress for medicinal use of the drug. The tide seems to have turned in the pursuit of the legalization of marijuana, and there is no telling how far this could run – and it can’t be too long until Congress catches on.