At it’s convention this weekend, Washington State Democrats voted overwhelmingly both to endorse Initiative 1068, which would legalize the sale and use of marijuana, and to oppose initiatives 1100 and 1105, which would privatize liquor sales, shuttering Washington’s profitable State Store monopoly.
And while Slog’s Dominic Holden might find it “weird” for Dems to support liberalizing the sale of pot while opposing the same for liquor, I don’t. In fact, as I wrote last year, our State Store system actually provides our fast and surest path toward rationalizing marijuana laws in Washington state:
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.
As for retail and consumption, the same restrictions that apply to the sale and use of liquor would apply to the sale and use of marijuana, with the state likely maintaining prices at or near current street levels. The result would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional state revenues, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from law enforcement and incarceration (not to mention the elimination of the incalculable human suffering caused by our current prohibition.) Distribution to minors, for profit or otherwise, would be strictly prohibited and harshly punished, as would driving under the influence of marijuana. And just as consumers may already legally make their own beer and wine for their own consumption, the current guidelines on medical marijuana could be easily adapted to apply to all home growers.
This isn’t some half-cocked, pot-induced fantasy (I don’t personally use the stuff) but rather a pragmatic, rational, working model for legalization. I don’t know what Dominic is smoking or drinking when he says he’ll vote for both the marijuana and the liquor privatization initiatives (you’d think that hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues would be enough to offset the inconvenience of not being able to buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark at 3AM), but given the self-destructive failure of marijuana prohibition, and the way its widespread illicit use undermines respect for the law by normalizing its violation, now is exactly the wrong time to dismantle our best path toward legalization by rashly dismantling our State Store system.
No state is better positioned to move our nation’s marijuana laws forward. Let’s not blow it.
Dominic points out via email that in pursuit of a springboard I quoted the word “weird” out of context:
Sure it seems weird, but this comes down to cash.
So yeah, Dominic was actually explaining why it’s not all that “weird.” My bad.
That said, I still find it weird that somebody like Dominic, who understands the budget impact of liquor privatization, would vote for it regardless.