Washingtonians voted to legalize recreational marijuana more than a year and a half ago. But no one could legally sell or buy pot until Tuesday morning, when the first newly licensed pot shops were authorized to open for business, where of-age customers can buy up to an ounce of dried weed in a single transaction.
The recreational industry will be anything but a free-for-all in the Evergreen state, with just a few dispensaries slated to open on the first legal day, and a long list of rules creating as many restrictions as permissions. Here’s what you need to know before you buy:
1. Retail sale of weed becomes legal Tuesday, but there are just 24 places to buy. Tuesday marks the day when a second state allows anyone aged 21 or older to buy pot legally. But Washington State will be initiating legal pot sales with a very soft roll-out. Just 24 stores have been issued licenses to sell, out of 334 authorized slots for dispensaries in the state. A large proportion of the voters who facilitated passage of Washington’s marijuana law in the first place came from the Seattle region, but only one pot shop will open in the city Tuesday. More than 7,000 businesses applied for 334 slots, which in part explains why it took the Washington State Liquor Control Board 18 months to get to opening day. As in Colorado, some cities in Washington have banned marijuana dispensaries within their borders, although legal challenges to these bans are ongoing.
2. Supply is seriously limited, and there won’t be anywhere to buy edibles. Even those stores that are licensed just received notice from the Washington State Liquor Control Board early Monday morning — just 24 hours before opening day. And they may not have enough supply to meet first-day demand, as growers weren’t licensed until March in Washington, and haven’t had enough time to cultivate a supply. Dispensary owner John Larson told the New York Times he only has about 2 pounds of marijuana for his southern Washington business, and expects that to be gone within hours. The shortage is expected to mean particularly high prices for marijuana.
Even customers who get on line early enough won’t be able to buy “edibles” when sales begin Tuesday. The state hasn’t yet approved their sale anywhere, and it is revisiting the regulation of edibles, according to the Seattle Times, after issuing emergency regulations on edibles in late June that require each and every marijuana-infused product to be individually approved by the state liquor board and setting strict standards for labeling. Those cooking the products may also have to have their kitchens approved. You also can’t buy hash or other marijuana concentrates that are often consumed orally in Washington for recreational purposes. So most recreational marijuana users will be smoking or vaporizingtheir product.
3. Even out-of-staters can buy legal weed, but you may have trouble finding a place to smoke it. Washington permits anyone 21 or older to buy up to an ounce of dried weed from a licensed pot seller in a single transaction. While Colorado permits smaller amounts of pot for out-of-state residents, Washington allows everyone to get the same amount. But some may have trouble finding a place to smoke it. Public smoking is prohibited, and you should be especially careful on federal land. Property owners can smoke at home. But renters and tourists may face separate owner-imposed restrictions in their living accommodations. For this reason, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is proposing rules to allow “private clubs” where tourists and renters can go to consume pot. Holmes argues that leaving renters and visits with nowhere to smoke makes marijuana access a “race & social justice and an economic development issue.”
You also can’t take your weed across state lines. Marijuana is still very federally illegal. And while federal prosecutors never prioritized individual smokers for prosecution anyway, both local authorities and the feds will be prioritizing crackdowns against the interstate travel of pot — one of the primary federal concerns with state legalization.
4. You’ll know how strong your pot is, and that it’s been screened for pesticides and mold. All marijuana in Washington will be pre-packaged after samples have been submitted to a lab for quality control testing. Each strain of pot will contain information known as a “potency profile,” which will give users better control over their marijuana experience. Testing labs determine the relative amounts of THC — the psychoactive component in marijuana, but also a number of other components known as “cannabinoids” including CBD, thought to alleviate seizures and pain, and CBN, which is thought to enhanced the psychoactive experience but can also promote sleep. Levels of each of these cannabinoids will be listed on the product label. Two state-approved testing facilities are also screening pot for mold, pesticides, and other contaminants that are common in black-market marijuana.
5. You can’t grow your own marijuana, and you can’t share what you buy with a friend. In Colorado, you can grow up to six plants if you meet certain conditions. But in Washington, growing even one plant without a license is considered “manufacture” and subject to harsh penalties. Likewise, giving some of what you buy to a friend is considered illegal “distribution.” So users who want to stay fully within the technical confines of the law should buy their own bud. The cultivation rule, however, is one of several that gets hazier when you factor in the state’s medical marijuana industry. Under the state’s medical law, patients with medical marijuana cards can grow up to 15 plans.
6. Things have been going really well in Colorado. Washington is only the second state to experiment with state legalization. But if Colorado is any indication, Washingtonians won’t have to wait long to exhale. Initial reports as Colorado reaches the six-month marker suggest that Colorado’s experiment has been a huge economic boon, while reducing crime. A recent poll also found that an even greater majority of Coloradans support legalization now that the state’s law has been implemented.
Downsides include increased flow of marijuana into neighboring states, meaning officials in Washington are likely to be particularly harsh on interstate transport of weed. Concerns over so-called “edibles” have also raised alarms, as marijuana-infused baked goods and candy are though to entice children, and tripped up New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in her now-infamous column. On this subject, too, Washington is already cracking down by requiring edibles to go through rigorous, individualized review. In both states, arrests have already plummeted since legalized possession went into effect, meeting one of the primary goals of legalization: ending harsh and discriminatory criminalization of minor marijuana offenses.