This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
One goal should be paramount as the state Liquor Control Board tries to build a legal marijuana industry from scratch: Keeping the drug away from adolescents.
The people behind Initiative 502 promised – we believe in good faith – that the ballot measure would help discourage teenagers from getting into pot. We were skeptical and remain so, though we’d love to be proven wrong.
No responsible person thinks it’s a good idea for 15-year-olds to consume cannabis. For many adults, the drug is a take-it-or-leave-it diversion. It’s another story for kids with developing brains: Marijuana can knock them out of school, turn them into daily users and derail their lives.
I-502 has already removed one of the chief deterrents to marijuana use: the stigma of illegality. Teenagers pick up on signals from adults. This signal says, “Pot? No big deal.”
The initiative proposed to counter this by making the existing black market go away. Thousands of traffickers and grow operations would be replaced by a tightly controlled system of licensed farmers and retail stores. The rules would be written and enforced by the state Liquor Control Board.
The board has been gathering testimony on what the system should look like. At hearings around the state, it has been deluged by – surprise! – big crowds of traffickers and growers who want in on the deal. They want lots of people – namely, themselves – to get the lucrative farming and retailing licenses the board will be passing out some months from now.
A lot of licensees is bad – very bad – if sales to minors are in fact an overriding concern.
Will it be easier for the Liquor Control Board to police 200 retailers or 2,000? The question answers itself. The board cannot direct the flow of marijuana if it waves a magic wand over the existing black market and calls it legal.
The current traffickers not only want lots of permits, they want those permits to be easily come by. I-502 set the price of a license at $1,000, within reach of anyone with a stash and a customer base. If the Legislature doesn’t allow the licenses to be auctioned, the board will have to get very picky when it doles them out.
The black market wants small operations – the grower or dealer with the stash – legalized. The board should go for fewer and bigger.
Who is more likely to sell under the table: A small-timer with a habit of operating outside the law, or a legitimate corporation with something to lose? Again, the question answers itself.
However many or few people the Liquor Control Board licenses, it’s not clear how the legal market is going to make much of a dent in the black market – and sales to teenagers.
Didn’t get a license? So what? Traffickers can keep on doing what they’re doing or open a storefront under a “medical” sign. Unless Washington State and its cities get serious about enforcement, Initiative 502 won’t be headed in a good direction.