In November, 2012 Washington State’s I-502 Initiative was voted into law. This was great news for marijuana users because I-502 decriminalized recreational use of the drug. The new law also allowed for the development of a licensed, and regulated system of marijuana production and distribution. The objective that it was to contain similar aspects to the state’s liquor laws. That being said the alcohol controls have been tried and tested, having been on the books for nearly a century. They also systematically adhere to the federal law, which I-502 simply cannot.
Although Washington’s law regarding the legalization of marijuana does not preempt federal law, the production, distribution, sale, possession, and use may be prosecuted under federal law. Since marijuana use is legal in the state, yet illegal on the federal level, it can certainly be a bit confusing to all parties involved. The following information should help to clarify the marijuana laws in Washington State.
Like it is in Colorado, only people that are 21+ are allowed to legally purchase marijuana in Washington. Out of state residents are allowed to buy the recreational drug, however they must consume it in state based on the fact that it still remains illegal in neighboring states.
Marijuana shop salespeople are required to check IDs to ensure that the customer is indeed 21 or older. Underage service is absolutely illegal in the state, and both sellers and buyers may be prosecuted by law. In fact, a sting was recently conducted by the state’s liquor control board. Prior to the operation retail marijuana businesses received calls where they were not only warned, but also reminded of the best practices regarding sales.
The board then sent out a number of 18-20 year old operatives in order to see if the stores would sell to them. Four out of 24 stores failed the test. Although the board strives for 100% compliance, that figure is next to impossible. That being said the 82% compliance statistic is considered to be a good mark, but not a great one. In a broader sting conducted a few months later, 19 of 157 stores were caught selling to the minor operatives. This time the compliancy rate increased to an impressive 88%. Given the steep penalties, and personal risk that the clerks face, it is quite surprising that the numbers are not closer to the 100% mark.
When a marijuana business sells to minors in Washington they face the possibility that their license will be suspended, and a fine of up to $2,500. If a business fails three times during a three-year period, they may lose their license to sell marijuana. The penalty is far harsher for both the sales clerk, and the underage buyer. They may actually face felony charges, although that has yet to occur in Washington.
The licensed retail stores are required to only sell marijuana related products. Consumption, and sampling is not allowed on the premises. Convenience stores, liquor stores, and other existing retail outlets are not allowed to add marijuana products to their current offerings. In addition, debit cards may be used in some legal establishments, however credit card usage is not allowed based on federal banking regulations. Marijuana usage is only allowed outside of the view of the general public, and on private property.
If you are 21 or older you are legally allowed to have up to one full ounce of marijuana in your possession at any time. You may also carry marijuana related paraphernalia such as smoking devices. The law also stipulates that citizens may have up to 16 ounces of a solid marijuana infused products, or up to 72 ounces of a liquid marijuana infused product at a time.
Washington is one of only a handful of states that have passed the legalization of marijuana. The results of this process are being examined under a microscope by the United State as whole, if not the entire world. There are many positives to consider. State revenue is sure to vastly increase based on two factors; the collection of taxes when the product is sold, and the licensing fees that distributors must pay in order to have the rights to sell marijuana. As a matter of fact the state sales tax on marijuana is currently at a hefty 37%. In turn crime will significantly decrease based on the fact that recreational users no longer need to purchase the product from illegal sources. This alone will reduce if not eventually eliminate the need for criminal enterprises, which specialize in marijuana distribution, to exist altogether. When these criminals are eliminated, it will also save the state a plethora of money pursuing, prosecuting, and jailing them.
Although I-502 should most definitely have a positive impact on Washington, only time will tell.
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