Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2014
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2014 Star Tribune
Author: Joni Balter
Note: Joni Balter is a longtime Seattle columnist and writer who 
contributes to local NPR and PBS affiliates. She wore this article 
for Bloomberg News.


Don't drool over the tax revenue. Know that medical cannabis is 
competition. Worry about edibles.

Colorado and Washington state knew they were jumping into the unknown 
when voters legalized recreational marijuana two years ago. They just 
didn't know the half of it. But thanks to what we've learned from the 
two pioneering states, it is easier for those that follow to separate 
hype from hemp.

The experience should not discourage other places from taking the 
legalization plunge but rather help them design a system that works 
better, a necessary step as the movement spreads. (Legalization plans 
are on the November ballot in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. - 
and California and Nevada, among others, are likely to follow in a 
year or two).

First, lower expectations for tax revenue and consider more carefully 
how competition from medical marijuana might affect recreational sales.

In Washington state, officials were so overwhelmed by the huge demand 
for licenses to grow, process and sell marijuana - some from folks 
not fully prepared to launch a business - that they didn't give 
growers a chance to deliver a bountiful crop in time for opening day in July.

Guess what that did to projections of plentiful tax revenue, a big 
selling point of legalization?

During the legalization campaign in Washington, forecasts for tax 
proceeds ranged from zero to $2 billion over five years - the 
equivalent of "we don't have a clue." That didn't stop supporters 
from predicting revenues of about $500 million a year. Limited 
supplies and a heavy dose of reason now suggest that the amount will 
be a fraction of that.

Colorado estimated $33.5 million in tax revenue for the first six 
months of legal recreational sales, but the result has been more like 
$14.7 million, in part because lower-taxed, cheaper medical marijuana 
remains ridiculously easy to obtain. Though Colorado converted many 
medical establishments to recreational sales, many heavy users - 
those who light up daily and who drive much of the demand - have 
lacked the incentive to give up their medical supply.

Another hitch has been when localities want to opt out of allowing 
retail sales, further complicating calculations on market share.

The Colorado law allows cities and counties to ban retail outlets 
that sell marijuana. Many have done so. The Washington measure didn't 
specifically address this question and is now facing a lawsuit.

The No. 1 sleeper issue of recreational pot has turned out to be how 
to regulate edibles - pot-infused cookies, candies, snacks and 
drinks. This caught most everyone by surprise. The lesson is to be 
very specific: Beware of the snickerdoodle with five or six servings 
of THC! Both Colorado and Washington enacted additional rules for 
these products after two edible-related deaths and an increase in 
emergency-room visits in Colorado.

The states now require better disclosure and suggested limits on 
amounts of THC - tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active ingredient in 
cannabis - to help people figure out how much is safe to consume. 
(Answer: not much.)

Then there is the matter of accommodating marijuana tourists. 
Travelers from all over the world have descended on Colorado and 
Washington and bought marijuana (officials are loath to say the 
visits are specifically for that purpose). But a successful pot 
tourism industry requires suitable public spaces to ingest it, and 
neither Washington nor Colorado allows smoking in public, in parks, 
on sidewalks and so on. And many if not most rental cars and hotel 
rooms are smoke-free.

Both states should borrow Amsterdam's "coffee shop" model so adults 
can purchase small quantities of marijuana for on-site consumption. 
"Coffee shops serve the important purpose of establishing social 
norms for responsible use - use that facilitates marijuana's 
enhancement of social interaction rather than use that leaves you 
'couch-locked' and noncommunicative," said Alison Holcomb, the chief 
author of Washington's legalization measure. "They also provide 
tourists and others who may not have their own private spaces a place 
to enjoy their marijuana out of the public view."

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes advocates so-called vape lounges, 
where consumers inhale via electronic vaporizers. The lounges would 
be like cigar bars or other private clubs where adults 21 and older 
can indulge - although users would bring their own bud.

Every state that hops on the legalization train will have its own 
debates on these questions and many others, including the issue of 
where the product is grown. But if you accept the evidence that 
alcohol is worse than marijuana or that the drug war didn't work or 
simply that legalization is inevitable, it doesn't take much to see 
the trend. The public is clamoring for a more up-to-date and 
realistic approach to recreational pot, and government is figuring it out.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom