Washington’s first state-licensed retail cannabis operators opened for business this morning.
The state’s Liquor Control Board issued 24 marijuana retailer licenses late last week. (Under state regulations, the Board may issue up to 334 licenses to retail facilities.) Of those, six opened for business today – the first day legal sales were permissible – according to the Associated Press.
Retail sale prices for a gram of cannabis ranged from $10 to $20 per gram on opening day, according to news reports. Prices are expected to fall once additional retailers open and once existing retailers obtain additional supplies of the product.
Similar state-licensed stores have been operating in Colorado since January 1.
Voters in both states in 2012 approved ballot measures regulating the commercial production, retail sale, and adult use of cannabis.
Said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri: “Every day in America, hundreds of thousands of people engage in transactions involving the recreational use of marijuana, but only in two states – Colorado and Washington – do these transactions take place in a safe, above-ground, state-licensed facility where consumers must show proof of age, the product sold is of known quality, and the sales are taxed in a manner to help fund necessary state and local services.”
Washington’s first wave of state-licensed cannabis retail stores are anticipated to open for business next week. Initiative 502, approved by a majority of voters in November 2012, authorizes the establishment of state-licensed cannabis producers and retail sellers.
The state’s Liquor Control Board is expected to begin issuing licenses on Monday, July 7. An estimated 20 retail stores are anticipated to open their doors later in the week. Similar state-sanction stores have been operating in Colorado since January 1.
With only a small number of stores likely to be operational at first, regulators anticipate that consumers’ demand for legal cannabis may initially outpace supply. In Colorado, retailers struggled initially to meet consumer demand, resulting in temporarily inflated retail prices for cannabis. Prices have steadily fallen in Colorado as additional retailers have opened for business.
Since the passage of Initiative 502, police filings for low-level marijuana offenses have fallen from over 5,000 annual arrests to just over one hundred.
[UPDATE: Here is a list (c/o of the Seattle Post Intelligencer) of the first 24 state-licensed stores:
WHIDBEY ISLAND CANNABIS COMPANY — 5826 S KRAMER RD STE, Langley
WESTSIDE420 RECREATIONAL — 4503 OCEAN BEACH HWY, Longview
VERDE VALLEY — 4007 MAIN ST, Union Gap
TOP SHELF CANNABIS – 3857 HANNEGAN RD, Bellingham
THE HAPPY CROP SHOPPE — 50 ROCK ISLAND RD, East Wenatchee
SPOKANE GREEN LEAF — 9107 N COUNTRY HOMES BLVD, Spokane
SPACE – 3111 S PINE ST, Tacoma
SATORI/INSTANT KARMA — 9301 N DIVISION ST, Spokane
NEW VANSTERDAM — 6515 E. MILL PLAIN BLVD, Vancouver
MARGIE’S POT SHOP — 405 E STUEBEN, Bingen
MAIN STREET MARIJUNA — 2314 MAIN ST, Vancouver
HIGH TIME STATION — 1448 BASIN ST NW, Ephrata
GREEN THEORY — 10697 MAIN ST STE B, Bellevue
GREEN STAR CANNABIS — 1403 N DIVISION ST, Spokane
FREEDOM MARKET — 820A WESTSIDE HWY, Kelso
CREATIVE RETAIL MANAGEMENT — 7046 PACIFIC AVE,Tacoma
CASCADE KROPZ — 19129 SMOKEY POINT BLVD, Arlington
CANNABIS CITY — 2733 4TH AVE S, Seattle
BUD HUT — 1123 E STATE ROUTE 532, Camano Island
AUSTIN LOTT — 29 HORIZON FLATS RD, Winthrop
ALTITUDE – 260 MERLOT DR, Prosser
4US RETAIL — 23251 HWY 20, Okanogan
420 CARPENTER — 422 CARPENTER RD, Lacey
2020 SOLUTIONS – 2018 IRON ST, Bellingham]
Washington: Over 1,300 Applications Submitted So Far By Those Seeking To Operate Commercial Marijuana BusinessesDecember 4, 2013
Washington state regulators are presently reviewing over 1,300 applications from would-be entrepreneurs seeking to engage in the state-licensed production and/or sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products to those age 21 and over. Regulators began accepting applications for licenses in mid-November and will continue accepting applications until December 19.
According to a review of applications by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, 635 applications have been submitted by those seeking commercial growing licenses and 461 applications have been submitted by those seeking to produce cannabis-infused products. Two-hundred and thirty applicants are seeking licenses to operate retail cannabis outlets.
Regulators may license the operation of up to 334 marijuana retail stores. There is no limit on the number of commercial cannabis growers or producers that may be licensed. Licensed facilities are anticipated to begin operating in Washington early-to-mid 2014.
In Colorado, regulators began accepting similar applications for commercial cannabis licenses in October. Regulators accepted 136 applications that month from applicants seeking to operate retail marijuana stores — the first of which was approved in late November. Licensed cannabis operations are anticipated to be operational in Colorado on January 1, 2014.
Washington state regulators today finalized rules to govern the state’s nascent marijuana retail market. Beginning on November 18, regulators will begin formally accepting applications from those seeking state licenses to commercially produce, process, and sell cannabis to those age 21 and over. A press release regarding the state’s forthcoming rules and the application process is available here.
Under an initiative (I-502) enacted by voters in November, the adult possession of limited quantities of non-medical marijuana — as well as the state-licensed production and sale of cannabis — is not subject to criminal penalty. Voters in Colorado approved a similar measure in November authorizing state-licensed marijuana production and retail sales. Colorado state regulators began accepting applications from would-be marijuana producers and retailers earlier this month.
In an August memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Cole directed the US Attorneys in all 50 states, including Colorado, not to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana regulations unless such activities specifically undermined eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.
Both Colorado and Washington are anticipated to have licensed marijuana retail outlets operational by early next year.
It has been nearly seven weeks since voters in Colorado and Washington made history, enacting at the ballot box unprecedented measures legalizing the adult possession on cannabis. Yet during this time, federal officials have largely remained silent.
One week ago, US Attorney General Eric Holder cryptically told Bloomberg News that the administration will formally announce its intentions “relatively soon,” but added no further details. Most recently, on Friday, President Obama told ABC News’ Barbara Walters: “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal. … We’ve got bigger fish to fry.” Of course, federal officials do not target minor marijuana offenders now — so the President’s statement provides little clarity as to what actions the Administration may take going forward as Colorado and Washington begin implementing broader regulatory reforms, including measures to license proprietors to commercially produce and sell cannabis to adults.
Today, in Alternet.org, I speculate as to what actions the Administration may take — and what actions they may not take — in the coming weeks as state lawmakers work toward the full implementation of Colorado and Washington’s newly enacted marijuana laws. An excerpt from this commentary appears below.
Will Obama Go After Legal Pot in Washington and Colorado?
With public opinion firmly behind the will of the voters, is it realistic to think that the Obama Justice Department will take action to try and nullify Colorado and Washington’s legalization laws? It’s possible, but it may not be as likely as some think.
For starters, states are not mandated under the US Controlled Substances Act to criminalize marijuana or to arrest and prosecute adult cannabis consumers and the federal government cannot compel prosecutors in Colorado or Washington to do so. The Justice Department and the US Drug Enforcement Administration could, theoretically, choose to selectively prosecute those individuals in Colorado and Washington who possess or grow quantities of plant that are compliant with state law. But such a scenario is hardly plausible. The federal government lacks the manpower and the public support – and therefore the political will – to engage in such behavior and this reality is unlikely to change any time soon. As acknowledged by former congressman and ex-DEA director Asa Hutchinson at a recent CATO Institute forum on the subject, the federal government never has prosecuted people for possessing an ounce of marijuana and it is not about to start doing so now.
By contrast, the Obama administration may attempt to actively prohibit states from allowing for the above-ground, licensed production and sale of cannabis by authorized proprietors. Justice Department officials could theoretically do so by either bringing a legal challenge against the states, by threatening local officials, or by proposing to withhold federal funding. But none of these actions are assured. Here’s why.
To date, the Obama administration has done little to interfere with the state-approved production and licensed distribution of medical marijuana in those states that explicitly license and regulate this activity — specifically in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, and New Mexico. (In recent days, some of the first state-approved dispensaries opened for business in Arizona and New Jersey. In coming months, licensed dispensaries are also anticipated to open their doors to the public in Vermont as well as the District of Columbia. **AUTHOR’S NOTE: By contrast, the Justice Department has taken actions to aggressively close operations in California, Oregon, Montana, and Washington — though none of these states explicitly license dispensaries.**) In Colorado – where the state has licensed several hundreds of cannabis dispensaries and oversees “seed to sale” regulations governing the plant’s production and distribution – federal officials have yet to either file suit or threaten any of the state regulators who oversee the program. In response to a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who sought to invalidate the state’s 2010 medical cannabis law, lawyers for the federal government affirmed that the administration had never engaged in such strong-arm tactics and did not intend to.
The federal judge in the case agreed. She rejected Gov. Brewer’s legal arguments that the operation of state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries was preempted by federal law or put state employees at risk for federal prosecution, determining “[T]he Complaint does not detail any history of prosecution of state employees for participation in state medical marijuana licensing schemes [and] fails to establish that Plaintiffs are subject to a genuine threat of imminent prosecution and consequently, the Complaint does not meet the constitutional requirements for ripeness.”
A Maricopa County (AZ) Superior Court ruling from earlier this month further affirms that states possess the legal authority to regulate the legal distribution of cannabis, at least in some specific instances, without running afoul of federal anti-drug laws. In the case before the Court, White Mountain Health Center, Inc. v. Maricopa County, Judge Michael Gordon determined that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not preempt Arizona’s efforts to authorize “the local cultivation, sale, and use, of medical marijuana.” Writing for the Court, Judge Gordon declared that nothing in Arizona’s law circumvents federal law since Justice Department officials could still continue to locally enforce the Controlled Substances Act. In fact, Judge Gordon suggested that the new law “affirmatively provides a roadmap for federal enforcement of the CSA, if they so wished to” since the statute requires patients and proprietors to register their activities with the state. He concluded: “The Court rejects … arguments that the [law] violates public policy simply because marijuana use and possession violate federal law. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation permitting the use of marijuana in whole or in part. The Court will not rule that Arizona, having sided with the ever-growing minority of States, and having limited it to medical use, has violated public policy.”
Some legal experts, including law professor Robert Mikos of Vanderbilt University Law School, suggest an additional legal theory as to why Colorado and Washington’s proposed regulatory schemes may not be subject to federal preemption. Speaking at a recent CATO Institute sponsored forum, Mikos suggested that the newly enacted state legalization laws do not violate the spirit or the intent of the Controlled Substances Act because the federal law exists for the expressed purpose of limiting the consumption of certain substances by the public, particularly young people. One can argue that the proposed statewide regulatory schemes in Colorado and Washington – which impose age restrictions for buyers and limit sellers to those authorized by the state – are intended to serve a similar purpose. Further, the proposed state programs, “do not stop federal authorities from sanctioning registrants.” Notably, Superior Court Judge Gordon specifically highlighted these arguments in his decision to uphold Arizona’s law and to reject claims that it positively conflicted with federal law.
“No one can argue that the federal government’s ability to enforce the CSA is impaired to the slightest degree [by Arizona’s medical marijuana law],” he opined. “Instead of frustrating the CSA’s purpose, it is sensible to argue that the [law] furthers the CSA’s objectives in combating drug abuse and the illegitimate trafficking of controlled substances.”
You can read the full text of my commentary here.