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Fri., July 11, 2014, midnight

Editorial: Legalized marijuana a mixed bag

Mike Boyer, the first buyer of legal marijuana in Spokane, may get fired, but he maintains he wouldn’t trade his place in history. “I regret nothing,” he told this newspaper.

But how will Washingtonians feel after the reality of legalization unfolds? That will depend on their assumptions and expectations. As happened with the deregulation of liquor sales, many people will find that the result isn’t what they wanted. The dismantling of state stores has led to significantly higher prices. Similarly, some supporters of Initiative 502 will have voters’ remorse.

That’s what happens when complex issues are adopted by popular vote, rather than hashed out in the deliberative bodies of representative government. Many people believe their reason for voting “yes” matches that of other affirmative voters. What they’re discovering is that there were various rationales, and none of them alone could have persuaded a majority.

The initiative said legalize pot. It didn’t say why. And it only offered a sketchy outline as to how.

So disappointment is sure to set in when those who wanted more revenue find out that it may not amount to much. The estimated haul for the first four years is $190 million. Enough, for example, to replenish the state parks account and perhaps dump the Discover Pass, but a tiny dent in the needed boost to education funding.

Those who thought legal sales would drive out illegal actors may be dismayed when informed that even when all the licensed stores are opened, 75 percent of the market will still be illicit, according to the Liquor Control Board. Many heavy users will still prefer their cheaper, nontaxed sources, so law enforcement will still need to pursue illegal operations.

Pot enthusiasts are disappointed that on opening day prices were high, supply was limited and edibles were unavailable, but that’s a function of the extensive process undertaken by the Liquor Control Board to carefully implement the wishes of myriad stakeholders, including law enforcement, the prevention community, politicians and, of course, the voters.

The regulators felt they had one chance to get it right. Perhaps some of the regulations can be relaxed some day, but it was wise to err on the side of safety. Liquor regulations are still tweaked, some 80 years after prohibition was lifted.

On the other end of the spectrum, the naysayers who thought the feds wouldn’t allow implementation will also be disappointed. They counted on marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug (deemed as bad as heroin and LSD) to stymie Washington and Colorado, the other state to legalize pot. But the feds have vowed to back off as long as pot distribution is controlled and children are protected. Stores will remain open.

Some medical marijuana users will be disappointed, because regulated pot will cost them more. At the end of 2018, even the dispensaries in liberal Seattle must be closed. The harmonizing of medicinal and recreational pot seems inevitable.

A year from now, we suspect the legalization of marijuana will be a mixed bag. But this experiment is worth pursuing because, legal or not, pot is here to stay.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:



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