Pubdate: Sun, 29 Dec 2013
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press


DENVER (AP) - Colorado and Washington state are launching the world's 
first legal recreational marijuana markets in 2014. Though pot has 
been sold for three decades at coffee shops in the Netherlands, the 
two states are the first to regulate and allow a full industry.

Being first to allow growing it, processing it and selling it doesn't 
come without risks. The states face plenty, from a potential 
crackdown over a drug that's still illegal under federal law to 
threats to public health.

A look at some of the pitfalls the two states will want to avoid as 
Big Weed tries to go mainstream:

YOUTH USE: The U.S. Department of Justice has told the states it 
won't interfere with state marijuana laws as long as they keep the 
drug away from those without permission to use it. Top of that list: 
children. Neither state will allow people under 21 to buy pot.

HEALTH: Some doctors warn that increased marijuana use will result in 
more emergency-room visits. There's not enough data to show if that 
is happening, though some hospitals have reported spikes in child 
admissions for pot overdoses. With no Food and Drug Administration 
oversight, the two states are producing their own product-safety 
standards to make sure pot is as potent as labeled and doesn't 
contain harmful molds or other contaminants.

SMUGGLING: The states have also been told they must keep legal pot 
out of other states and off federal property. That's no small task in 
Western states with huge swaths of federal property, such as parks 
and ski areas. The states will allow visitors to buy pot, but also 
warn them about where they can and can't take it.

CRIME: Legalization opponents say residency requirements won't 
prevent criminal cartels from setting up straw-man growing 
operations. The states also have tracking systems to make sure what 
is grown ends up sold legally. Colorado, however, also allows people 
to grow pot at home, making it impossible to keep track of where it 
is coming from and where it's going.

DRIVING: The states set up marijuana analogies to drunk-driving laws, 
setting driver blood limits for pot's psychoactive chemical, THC. The 
laws are new, and it's too soon to say whether legal pot has made 
highways more dangerous in Colorado and Washington. Both states 
report seeing more positive driving-high tests, but it's not clear 
whether that's because of increased driver use or increased testing.

TAXES: Nobody knows how and at what level to tax pot. Too low, and 
the states won't be able to afford intense regulatory supervision of 
the industry. Too high, and pot users may stay in the black market.

DEMAND: Guessing marijuana demand is a tricky proposition. Colorado 
growers warn that early demand could lead to sky-high prices and 
shortages, with state production caps still uncertain. In Washington, 
regulators are taking a new look at supply needs after a recently 
released study produced a demand estimate that far outstripped earlier guesses.

BANKING: Marijuana legalization hasn't taken away one black-market 
aspect for the drug in Colorado and Washington: Cash runs the 
business. Financial services as simple as checking accounts and 
credit cards are off-limits because of federal guidance to financial 
institutions. Colorado officials say they're optimistic the U.S. 
Treasury Department will loosen those rules next year, but it's 
unclear what that would look like.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom