Pubdate: Sun, 20 Sep 2015
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2015 Dayton Daily News
Author: Laura A. Bischoff


Business at SEATTLE, WASH.- Uncle Ike's Pot Shop is buzzing as nine 
"budtenders" help customers pick out weed, candies, bongs and more 
while another dozen people stand in line and flip through "menus."

"I can help the next guest down here," an employee shouts out.

Open for just under a year, Uncle Ike's already has 30 employees, a 
taco food truck in the parking lot, a glass and goods satellite shop 
and $1.5 million in monthly sales, according to Kenji Hobbs, the night manager.

"It's like Black Friday in here every day on a weekend but without 
the trampling and yelling," he said.

While Ohioans will vote Nov. 3 on whether to legalize marijuana for 
medical and recreational purposes, the state of Washington said yes 
to legal recreational weed in November 2012 and opened its first 
retail stores in July 2014.

To say there is a market is an understatement. The state has licensed 
161 growers, 492 processor/growers, 56 processors and 196 retailers. 
In the first fiscal year, the recreational pot industry sold $259.8 
million worth of products off the shelf and paid $64.95 million in 
taxes to the state.

The blossoming industry hasn't been a complete shock to Washington, 
which is a politically liberal state that has had legal medical 
marijuana for 17 years. Lawmakers just moved to put medical 
dispensaries under the same regulations as recreational license 
holders. And legal weed isn't popular statewide - some jurisdictions 
in sparsely populated, more politically conservative areas of 
Washington banned marijuana businesses, which has sparked litigation 
over whether locals have the power to prohibit a business sanctioned 
by the state.

Ohio's weed plan resembles Washington's in some key areas: tight 
regulation by state authorities, adults only, no public use, limits 
on personal possession amounts and a 1,000-foot buffer between weed 
operations and places frequented by kids.

But there are big differences as well. Ohio Issue 3 calls for 
legalizing medical and recreational marijuana at the same time and 
authorizing 10 investor groups that are financing the campaign to 
grow most of the legal pot statewide. Ohio adults would be allowed to 
home grow up to four flowering plants - something that Washington 
still prohibits.

'Ten growers?'

Although the monopoly issue has hovered like a black cloud over 
Ohio's ballot issue, it sounds appealing to Rick Garza, director of 
the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

"Ten growers? I'm so jealous," he said. "If you're a regulator like 
we are, how much easier would it be to regulate 10 growers versus 1,000?"

Garza and his staff of 330 oversee both liquor and marijuana 
statewide. Although retail sales have only been underway for 15 
months, they average $2.3 million a day, he said.

Washington produced more than 73,000 pounds of legal recreational 
weed in the first fiscal year - enough for more than 60 million 
joints - and almost $65 million in tax revenues. ResponsibleOhio, the 
campaign pushing Issue 3, estimates the 10 growing groups will 
eventually produce 538,000 pounds and generate $554 million in tax 
revenues per year.

Seattle area residents in the scratch their heads when they hear that 
Ohio's plan would allow just 10 commercial growers.

Andrew Seitz, operations manager at Dutch Brothers Farms, said 
entrepreneurs will be blocked out from cultivation and "your state is 
going to lag behind in creativity and quality - things like that."

Marijuana is akin to wine in that consumers want quality and variety, 
said Seitz, 42, a former mortgage broker who sank his life savings 
into a small indoor growing operation.

Washington's recreational marijuana industry is a highly-regulated, 
heavily-taxed, decentralized system. It is populated by upstart 
entrepreneurs, crafty artisans and sharp business operators.

Jill Lane, master grower at Sky High Gardens, which is Seattle's 
largest grower, was working as a banker when she started providing 
consulting services to medical marijuana businesses.

She quickly determined that her clients knew pot but lacked business 
acumen. "Most of the growers I encountered were flighty and not 
business oriented. They were artist types," she said. "It was just 
operated like the Wild West."

Lane, 35, applied her business skills to build Sky High Gardens as a 
purveyor of topshelf quality bud - first for the medical market and 
now for the recreational users. The business has 25 full-time 
employees, $2.2 million in projected annual sales and just under 
5,000 square feet of cultivation tucked inside a three-story, 
nondescript industrial building sandwiched between a highway overpass 
and the Seattle harbor.

Sky High Gardens welcomes tourists from around the globe with the 
hopes of changing the stereotype. "It's not a bunch of ex-hippies in 
tie-dye shirts getting stoned all day," Lane said. "I'd say that weed 
grow is very scientific and it takes a sharp brain."

Baked into Washington's Initiative 502 is a mandate for independent 
analysis of the impact of legal marijuana. But researchers reported 
on Sept. 1 that it's too soon to tell what the outcomes are on 
education, public health, traffic safety, crime and other aspects.

The Seattle Times reported that fatal crashes involving drivers who 
tested positive for THC, marijuana's psychoactive chemical, climbed 
56 percent between 2013 to 2014. But missing from the reports is 
whether the THC was active or inactive in their systems. And keep in 
mind, the retail stores didn't start opening until July 2014.

The newspaper also reported that the number of low-level pot 
possession cases in state courts dropped from 5,531 in 2012 to 120 in 2013.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy said there isn't 
enough data yet to draw cause-and-effect conclusions. "Effects of the 
law will not be detectable until several years after implementation, 
and it may take longer for any effects to stabilize," the researchers said.

'Do no harm'

Washington's journey to legal recreational weed began a decade ago 
when the ACLU hired Alison Holcomb to work on marijuana and social 
justice issues and voters elected Pete Holmes as the Seattle city 
attorney. His first day on the job, in January 2010, Holmes 
immediately dropped all the pending misdemeanor marijuana possession tickets.

Holmes advocated for Initiative 502 on the 2012 ballot with the 
belief that marijuana prohibition had led to unnecessary mass 
incarcerations, which disproportionately hit African-Americans and 
poor people, and unnecessary government interference into what adults 
do in the privacy of their own homes.

"Nothing is worse, first of all, than wrong-headed government 
policy," Holmes said. "I'm a firm believer in do no harm. And when a 
government policy is costing you dearly in coin - not to mention 
human resources and the toll that it takes - and failing to 
accomplish all of your laudable objectives about access by youth, 
impaired driving and instead you end up granting effectively a 
monopoly to the illegal enterprises, that is just the definition of insanity."

Holmes said Initiative 502 sparked an "enlightened discourse"about 
the impact of the war on drugs, how America has 5 percent of the 
global population but 25 percent of the incarcerations and how a 
different approach would work.

Holcomb, who is now the ACLU's director of the campaign for smart 
justice, authored Initiative 502 and agrees with Holmes that an 
important by-product has been the public's willingness to consider an 
alternative approach.

"I think it was a watershed moment," she said of its passage. "It 
gives us an opportunity to see if in fact we can produce better 
outcomes. It's the beginning of the conversation, not the end. But 
it's taken the conversation in a completely new direction."

The indoor growing operations in Seattle are largely unnoticeable to 
passersby. Dutch Brothers Farms is on the second floor of a warehouse 
behind a hardware and tool rental business. Sky High Gardens doesn't 
even have an exterior sign, while inside the pungent aroma of 
marijuana hangs in the air.

Retail shops face strict limits on advertising and signage and the 
1,000-foot buffer rule hems them into locating in industrial areas or 
on the fringe of neighborhoods.

At Cannabis City, bouncer Joe Iaciofoli is armed with a taser and 
baton as he carefully checks ID for each customer before they pass 
through the doors. Inside, 11 cameras record and archive every move 
made in the 620-square-foot shop. An hour after opening on a Monday 
morning, Iaciofoli has checked in 25 customers - guys in work boots 
and jeans, a 20-something woman wearing a sparkly gold party dress, 
and two baby boomer hippies with their long gray hair braided.

Melia Thomas, 26, a part-time nanny, paid $28 for a pre-rolled joint 
and a gram of marijuana flower that will last her four days. "It has 
definitely been positive forWashington," Thomas said. "It brings in a 
lot of money and taxes and it cuts down on the black market." Thomas 
said she appreciates that the products are tested and weighed, unlike 
when she bought illegal marijuana from her contacts.

James Lathrop, owner of Cannabis City, said customers come for the 
weed but he predicts that eventually they'll buy products and pens 
that will allow them to vape marijuana in public without the 
signature fragrance of pot alerting people nearby.

In Ohio, opponents are hammering away on the fears that legal 
marijuana will be harmful to youth.

Washington's Healthy Youth Survey found marijuana use among 
eighth-graders unchanged in 2014 compared with 2012 but more kids 
report that adults wouldn't think it was wrong for them to use 
marijuana and fewer students think there is a great risk to regularly 
using marijuana.

Dr. LeslieWalker, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at 
Seattle Children's Hospital, said using marijuana as a teen or young 
adult carries big risks: addiction, difficulty sleeping, memory loss, 
arrested brain development, paranoia and more.

Walker's face appears on billboards in Seattle, urging parents to 
talk to their children about marijuana.

Walker said there are disturbing trends, including children vaping 
marijuana and holding "dabbing" parties.

Dabbing involves cooking a mixture of butane and marijuana in an oven 
- - risking fires and explosions - to reduce the cannabis to a highly 
concentrated paste. Users smoke just a pinhead amount of the paste 
for an all day high.

Her advice to Ohio if it legalizes marijuana? Invest money in 
prevention and education of parents, slap on high taxes so kids are 
less likely to buy it and make sure it isn't packaged to appeal to 
children. While ResponsibleOhio is using Buddie, a costumed 
superhero, to advocate for Issue 3, Washington's recreational weed 
businesses face strict rules on advertising and packaging to ensure 
they aren't pitching to children.

"If you make rules, hold people accountable to the rules that you 
have and if you have money that is to go to prevention, intervention 
and treatment ... make sure it can't be taken away," Walker said.

Holmes, the Seattle city attorney, agreed withWalker. He said the 
state Supreme Court issued a contempt order against the Washington 
legislature for failure to adequately fund public education and there 
is pressure to dip into the marijuana tax revenue stream. Holmes, 
though, wants it preserved for industry regulation, drug treatment 
and evaluation of the legal weed program.

Shifting ground

Fifteen months after the first retail shops opened, the ground is 
already shifting on Washington's marijuana laws. This past spring 
lawmakers passed a bill to merge regulation of the recreational and 
medical marijuana markets and a change in the tax rates and 
structures. Also, this week, state regulators and the Suquamish Tribe 
signed a marijuana agreement that will allow the tribe to operate a 
retail store under rules governing other retailers, according to the 
Seattle Times.

Holmes expects that eventually there will be a loosening of the 
strict ban on public consumption.

Cannabis City's billboard looming over Fourth Avenue beckons 
customers to "Come See What All the Buzz is About." But for tourists 
who want to try legal weed there are few options for using it while 
visiting Washington: hotels and rental car companies largely ban 
smoking pot or any other substance on their properties.

Lane of Sky High Gardens said Washington gets a lot of attention from 
states such as Ohio that are considering legalizing marijuana. 
"Overall, I think that Washington is looking pretty responsible," she said.

For Colin McCrate, who grew up in Beavercreek but moved to Seattle in 
2003, the legalization question should be a no-brainer for Ohioans. 
Lots of people use marijuana responsibly, he said, and shouldn't have 
to hide it from law enforcement.


Marijuana: Ohio decides townhall event

The Dayton Daily News, News Center 7, WHIO Radio and the Dayton Area 
League of Women Voters is hosting a town hall discussion on the 
marijuana issue facing Ohio voters on Wednesday, Sept. 23. Here's how 
to go and join the discussion:

Sinclair Community College, Building 12, Smith Auditorium, 444W. 
Third St., Dayton. 7-8:30p.m.; Wednesday, Sept. 23

If you can't make it to the event, you can listen live on AM 1290 and 
News 95.7 WHIO.The event will also stream live online at
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom