Tuesday’s election results in Colorado and Washington were historic. Marijuana prohibition has been dealt a serious blow, and the effects are being felt worldwide. A destructive and misguided global prohibition policy that the U.S. has aggressively used the U.N. to implement for decades is now being seriously challenged by two of its own states.
But how is this going to play out here? A lot of folks believe that the federal government will use whatever power they have at their disposal to prevent Washington from regulating the trade – and threats of action alone will stop the Liquor Control Board dead in its tracks. Others think the federal government doesn’t have the stomach for such a messy fight and will allow limited state control (as they’ve done for medical marijuana in states with regulated dispensaries, like Colorado). And others think this will end up being fought in the courts for years with regulations on hold until judges rule on it.
I don’t really know what the federal response is going to be, but the reality here in Washington is that on December 6, people aren’t going to be worried about getting arrested for buying, possessing, or using pot any more. And in Seattle, the dispensaries (which already operate outside of state law by selling directly to medical marijuana patients) probably won’t mind selling to those people for a few extra bucks. Already, there have been several stories of people going into Seattle’s dispensaries these past few days thinking that they no longer need a medical marijuana authorization to sample the wares.
So what happens then? The regulatory model won’t be implemented until the end of 2013. But no one in Seattle is likely to care that a legal marketplace is taking shape in the meantime. The city attorney was a co-sponsor of I-502. The mayor and the entire 9-member city council all strongly support it and have long felt that marijuana should be sold in regulated dispensaries. The two candidates for King County Sheriff this cycle were fighting over who supported I-502 more. And Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, has only shown interest in going after folks in the medical marijuana industry who engage in intra-state trafficking or who set up shop too close to schools (which is now regulated by I-502), even though Seattle’s dispensaries have technically been afoul of the state law all along. All the way up the chain, there just isn’t much of an appetite for a fight. The city will just make sure dispensaries are licensed, zoned, paying taxes, following food and safety laws, and checking customer ID’s and all will be well.
But outside of Seattle is probably a different story. The U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington has been far more aggressive about enforcing federal law. Tacoma and Pierce County law enforcement are notoriously anti-pot and could very easily demand that no dispensaries operate before regulations are written. Other communities around the state rushed to ban collective medical marijuana gardens once the legislature allowed them, even though they technically weren’t allowed to. These same communities might even go as far as calling in the DEA in order to keep state regulated dispensaries from opening.
My best guess at what will happen is that Seattle will become an island of regulated sales for a while, and folks from around the state (and probably beyond) will drive here for their ounce and go back home. At some point, there will be an attempt by the federal drug war apparatus to shut it down, but I don’t see it succeeding. They couldn’t stop the medical marijuana trade, and they won’t be able to stop this either.