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Marijuana legalized: What happens next?
POULSBO — At the behest of the people of Washington state, recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older was legalized Tuesday night.
Kitsap County voted to approve Initiative 502 with 42,233 votes, or 56 percent. Statewide, more than one million residents — 55 percent — voted to approve the measure.
Like regulating the use of medical marijuana, this new law, which takes effect Dec. 6, will cause complications for law enforcement. Federal law prohibits marijuana sales and use.
In Washington state, I-502 legalizes marijuana for recreational use by adults 21 and older; decriminalizes production, distribution and possession; and taxes sales from state-licensed stores.
Once in effect, it will no longer be a crime in Washington for an adult to possess 1 ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form (such as cookies), and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused products in liquid form (teas, lotions).
Liquor Control Board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said the state has a year to fine-tune its regulation, and some questions have no answers yet. The Board of Pharmacy, and Departments of Health and Agriculture, along with the Liquor Control Board, will finalize the rules and regulations by Dec. 6, 2013.
On the state level, here are some answers to lingering questions.
Q: Where can you smoke?
A: The initiative's language says adults 21 and older cannot use marijuana in view of the general public.
Q: Where can you buy?
A: Marijuana production, processing and retailing cannot be located closer than 1,000 feet from an elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, or library, or any game arcade which admits minors.
A retail store would only be allowed to sell marijuana, marijuana-infused products or paraphernalia; could not display marijuana or related products visible to the public; and would be allowed only one identifying sign, not to exceed 1,600 square inches.
In determining whether to grant or deny a license, the state Liquor Control Board will give "substantial weight" to objections from another municipality based on "chronic illegal activity associated with the applicant's operations." Carpenter said it is unclear which jurisdiction will have the final authority to allow a licensed marijuana business.
Larry Keeton, Kitsap County’s director of community development, said he suspects the Board of Commissioners will approve or disapprove marijuana licenses when the time comes, as they do with liquor licenses. But he said the problem is, the county doesn't have "anything in our code that says we can do something illegal."
"Until [we] get regulatory guidance from the state, we really can't do anything," he said. "We're leery about moving forward until we have a better understanding about what's allowed and what's now allowed."
Q: Who grows/produces the marijuana?
A: Producers and processors of marijuana are required to obtain a license for a $250 application fee and $1,000 renewal fee.
Q: Where does the money go?
A: Recreational marijuana will be taxed three times; the producer, processor and retailer will each pay an excise tax of 25 percent of the selling price. This tax is in addition to applicable general, state, and local sales and use taxes, and is part of the total retail price, according to the Liquor Control Board.
All funds from marijuana excise taxes are deposited in the Dedicated Marijuana Fund: $1.25 million to the Liquor Control Board for administration; $175,000 to the Department of Social and Health Services for surveys; $5,000 to the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute for public education materials; 15 percent to the Department of Social and Health Services for prevention of substance abuse; 10 percent to the Department of Health for marijuana education; and the rest in the general fund.
The state estimates marijuana sales will bring in more than $500 million a year in taxes by 2015.
Q: How will law enforcement officers regulate driving under the influence of marijuana?
A: If a law enforcement officer suspects a driver of being under the influence, the initiative states "test or tests of breath" will be administered by law enforcement, and the driver will be arrested if found to have a THC concentration over 5 nanograms per milliliter. However, the only way to determine THC concentration — the hallucinogenic property in marijuana — is by testing blood.
Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the county Sheriff's Office , said the issue is whether to book a potential offender into jail without full blood-test results at the scene.
"We are waiting for guidance from the state, the policies and procedures, with regard to detecting impairment and processing," Wilson said. He said he suspects processing may be the same as now — if an officer suspects a driver of being under an influence of a drug other than alcohol, a specially-trained drug officer is brought in. If a blood draw is required, the suspect can be brought to a local fire station, where an EMT conducts the blood draw, but that may cause a strain on resources, Wilson said.
Q: What do local law enforcement say about the passage?
A: Law enforcement bodies and regulatory bodies are split on how to carry out the legalization of marijuana.
"We will enforce the law of the state and the federal, [but] they will collide," Wilson said. "We're waiting on guidance from the attorney general's office to see how this is all going to shake out."
Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Russ Winger said it will be business as usual until the law changes, and perhaps even afterward.
"There's likely to be a federal challenge" on the law, he said, adding that the procedures for enforcing DUIs — whether alcohol or marijuana — will remain the same.
"We wouldn't be able to take enforcement if [the driver] legally has something, but that's not the case yet."
U.S. Department of Justice officials stated the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged, and marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance
Q: Does I-502 affect the medical cannabis act?
The Liquor Control Board released a statement Wednesday that it "will move forward to carry out the will of the voters" and build a system "from the ground up."
"There's not a whole lot we can do in advance of this thing, because it's not law," Carpenter said Wednesday. "Up until this morning, we could do preplanning, start to figure out how and which way we're going to attack this thing, but we can't do anything until it's actually voted on by the people."
"The key thing to think is today is day one," Carpenter said. "Over the next year, we're tasked with providing the framework for this system, and that's what were going to do."