Pubdate: Tue, 08 Jul 2014
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2014 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes


State Begins Sales of Recreational Marijuana Today

Smoke 'em if you've got 'em: Washington state this week joins an 
exclusive club as residents and tourists alike get their first chance 
to buy recreational marijuana.

The second state to legalize recreational pot - Colorado allowed 
sales starting Jan. 1 - Washington joins a fast-growing market that's 
already generating tens of millions of dollars in taxes with no signs 
of slowing down.

All that demand is expected to cause significant pot shortages and 
prices to temporarily skyrocket in the short term as growers match 
supply and buyers adjust to a system where marijuana is legally 
bought and sold from state-regulated stores.

Washington state officials on Monday morning issued 24 marijuana 
retailer licenses across the state. The approval means the stores can 
stock up with pot products and begin sales on Tuesday, after a 
required 24-hour waiting period.

Like Colorado, Washington already has a medical marijuana system. The 
new stores opening Tuesday allow adults to buy pot just for fun. 
Regulators in both states have been consulting each other via phone 
every two weeks for months, sharing tips and best practices as they 
develop them.

MORE: Differences in Washington, Colorado pot systems

"I think they've got a good handle on what they're doing," said 
Andrew Freedman, Colorado's director of marijuana coordination.

Like Colorado, Washington state expects to see tight supplies in the 
initial days of legalization. In Colorado, for instance, prices for 
an ounce of high-grade marijuana rose past $300 in the first few days 
of January as lines snaked around the block at some stores and 
retailers blocked large purchases. Over the July 4 weekend, however, 
one large chain of Colorado marijuana stores was selling ounces for 
$85, plus tax.

For months, Colorado has borne the brunt of late-night comedians' 
marijuana jokes, but for state taxpayers, marijuana legalization is 
no laughing matter. Colorado already has collected more than $24 
million in marijuana taxes and fees as residents and tourists buy pot 
at state-licensed stores. Washington state expects to collect $190 
million over the next four years, according to government projections.

Colorado also has seen its fair share of negative attention from 
legal marijuana, including the experience of New York Times columnist 
Maureen Dowd, who detailed her hallucinatory episode after eating a 
pot-laced chocolate bar. Colorado also has seen two high-profile 
deaths connected with marijuana edibles, which quickly became far 
more popular than anyone had expected.

In the first, a college student from Wyoming jumped to his death 
March 11 from a Denver hotel balcony after eating a marijuana cookie. 
Witnesses told police that Levi Thamba Pongi, 19, was rambling 
incoherently after eating a large serving of the doped cookie. The 
Denver coroner ruled that "marijuana intoxication" was a significant 
factor in his death.

Richard Kirk of Denver faces first-degree murder charges stemming 
from the fatal shooting of his wife inside their home in April. 
Kirk's wife called 911 to report he was hallucinating and rambling 
after eating marijuana candy and taking prescription medication. 
Kristine Kirk died while on the phone with a police dispatcher.

Hospital emergency rooms and veterinarians also have reported a 
significant increase in the number of kids and dogs sickened from 
eating marijuana-infused foods, which range from cookies to gummy 
bears and mints. At the same time, Colorado has not yet caught any 
stores selling to underage buyers: a recent sting operation recorded 
a 100% compliance rate.

Marijuana-infused foods known as edibles have become far more popular 
in Colorado than anyone expected, said Ron Kamerzell, director of 
enforcement for the Colorado Department of Revenue.

While medical marijuana users tended to buy buds and hash, 
recreational users, many of them trying pot for the first time, are 
experimenting with powerful marijuana-infused candies, sodas and even 
salad dressing.

"We've had a lot of new people ... and maybe they've never consumed 
marijuana at all," Kamerzell said. "The industry has recognized 
there's an issue with these new consumers."

Washington state won't be permitting edibles sales when the first 
retail store opens because the state has not yet approved any of the 
edibles manufacturers. That delay may give vendors time to adjust 
their products.

Dixie Elixirs, one of Colorado's largest manufacturers of marijuana 
edibles, is now offering low-dose marijuana products.



While the recreational marijuana systems in Colorado and Washington 
state are broadly similar, here are key differences between the two:

1 Colorado permits residents to grow a small number of plants for 
their personal use. Washington requires all marijuana to be grown by 
licensed farmers.

2 Washington set a cap of 334 recreational marijuana stores 
statewide, distributed by population, although not that many will 
open because cities and towns can bar them. Colorado has no cap on 
the number of stores.

3 Colorado allows licensed operators to grow, process and sell 
marijuana to consumers. Washington separates producers and growers 
from retailers.

4 Colorado and Washington allow buyers to possess up to an ounce of 
marijuana at any time, but Colorado limits non-residents to buying a 
quarter-ounce at a time. Washington makes no distinction between 
resident and non-resident sales.

5 Washington initially limits overall marijuana growing to 2 million 
square feet, while Colorado doesn't limit how much private space can 
be dedicated to growing operations. Washington's limit effectively 
caps the amount of marijuana that can be grown and sold, while 
Colorado has chosen to let the free market decide.

6 Washington requires quality testing for all marijuana - including 
edible products - on the first day of sales. Colorado's sales began 
without mandatory testing, but those requirements are now in place. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom