The Washington State Bar Association has endorsed a bill that would decriminalize simple marijuana possession, reducing the maximum punishment from the current $1000 fine and 90 days in jail, to a $100 ticket.
Well… um… yawn.
It’s not that I don’t support the WSBA’s resolution, it’s just that it’s hard to get excited about a half-measure that’s at least twenty years behind the times, and fails to take full advantage of a budget crisis that could force legislators to take a new and creative look at our state’s antiquated drug policies. For as I’ve previously argued, it’s time to fully legalize marijuana, and sell it through our state stores.
Other states may be further along the political path toward de facto legalization, but no other state, with the exception of my native Pennsylvania, has a more robust system already in place for effectively executing it. Washington already heavily regulates the in-state manufacture of wine, beer and distilled spirits, and maintains an extensive statewide network of retail stores and distribution centers for the sole purpose of operating its exclusive monopoly on the retail sale of liquor. A similar monopoly on the legal sale of marijuana would not only be easily implemented, but highly profitable for taxpayers and state farmers alike.
At an estimated street value of over $1 billion a year, marijuana is already Washington’s number two cash crop, second only to apples, and consistently ranking us among the top five pot-producing states. By legalizing and regulating a crop that is already being grown, the state could impose standards of consistency and quality on the product, and by setting prices as the only legal buyer for the crop, farmers could be assured a stable, legal income for their efforts.
And considering the existing federal ban on marijuana, and the federal government’s constitutional authority over interstate commerce, Washington’s State Stores, by necessity, would initially only be able to buy and sell state-grown product, thus nurturing a nascent hemp industry that would eventually produce a valuable export commodity once the ban is lifted nationally, perhaps even dominating the market.
According to the Office of Financial Management, decriminalizing marijuana could save state and local authorities as much as $16 million a year in law enforcement resources. But regulated growing, and a State Store monopoly, could contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local coffers, with plenty left over to dramatically expand our treatment and prevention programs.
As Lee has extensively documented here on HA, our nation’s war on pot is an abject failure. It’s time for our nation to accept the reality that tens of millions of Americans choose to enjoy the recreational use of marijuana. And what better place to start than here in Washington state?