Pubdate: Sun, 04 Jan 2015
Source: Rome News-Tribune (GA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press


Denver (AP) - Don't worry about a federal lawsuit. But do worry about 
tax rates. Those are among the many lessons Colorado and Washington 
have to share from the front lines of America's marijuana experiment.

Lesson 1: Don't be timid

Public officials in the pioneering marijuana states were flat-footed 
when voters made pot legal.

At first waiting for a possible federal lawsuit, then trying to 
figure out how to monitor and tax a product that had never been fully 
regulated anywhere in the world, the states spent many months coming 
up with rules for how the drug should be grown, sold and consumed.

The delays were understandable. But they led to one of the biggest 
disappointments of the marijuana markets - lower-than-hoped tax collections.

Lesson 2: Don't get too excited, either

Both Colorado and Washington have seen tax collections fall below 
some rosy projections. The effective tax rates are about 44 percent 
in Washington and 29 percent in Colorado, with plenty of asterisks 
and local variances.

The states assumed users would pay a steep premium to stop using drug 
dealers and have clean, safe stores in which to buy weed. But the tax 
rates have led to a continuing black market, undercutting the top 
argument for legalizing in the first place.

Months of delays for permitting and licensing meant that potential 
pot taxes went uncollected. And limited supply has further driven up 
the price of legal weed. Lesson 3: Think outside the bong Pot users 
these days aren't using the drug the same way hippies in the 1960s 
did. But Colorado and Washington weren't entirely prepared to deal 
with popular new forms of edible and concentrated weed.

It took more than 18 months for Washington to begin sales of edible pot.

Colorado had regulations for edible pot already in place from the 
medical market - but it stumbled, too, when the edibles proved a lot 
more popular than officials expected and many first-timers weren't 
sure how much to eat.

Colorado has had to go back after the fact to tighten rules on edible 
pot packaging and dosing.

Lesson 4: Think about the kids

It's an obvious consequence of legalization - wider availability for 
adults means easier access for kids.

School districts in both Colorado and Washington have reported more 
kids showing up at school with weed. There have been more kids 
treated at emergency room for marijuana ingestions, too.

Marijuana exposure isn't fatal, but the experience so far in both 
states underscores the need for states to have plans for talking with 
minors about pot.

Lesson 5: The thin green line

Law enforcement has a big role in reducing potential public safety 
effects of legalization.

States that legalize pot need a plan in place for how officers 
determine whether drivers are impaired by marijuana. After 
legalization, simply sniffing pot in a car or seeing a joint on the 
seat isn't enough to haul someone to jail.

Officers also need new guidance on handling marijuana evidence, 
telling legal growing operations from illegal ones, and protecting 
businesses that may be targets for robbery because they operate with 
large amounts of cash (because banks are leery of assisting 
businesses that sell a drug that is illegal under federal law).
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom