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Washington state marijuana regulations stir some advocates

November 14, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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After Washington state adopted new regulations for the recreational use of marijuana last month, professionals began conversations about the news. The regulations cover various subtopics including licenses, retail stores, law enforcement and public safety, federal government action, financial issues and medical marijuana issues.

Project coordinator for the Washington state office of the advocacy organization Project SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-WA), Derek Franklin, says his initial thought as the Liquor Control Board rolled out these new rules, referred to as I-502, was that this was about to be “a public health disaster.” He says that while some of the changes to the rules have set out to benefit the public health, they haven’t gone far enough.

The regulations state that all marijuana purchased in Washington must be consumed within the state by individuals over the age of 21.

For Kevin Sabet, PhD, Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine and a founder of Project SAM, one of his main concerns is that marijuana advertising will be allowed. A producer or retailer will not be allowed to advertise within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, child care facilities, public parks or libraries. However, young people still will see some of the advertising messages, he says.

Franklin agrees and says, “In particular, the specter of ‘Big Marijuana’ seemed to loom large as our efforts to ban marijuana mass media advertising failed. When pot shops open in Washington in mid-2014, there will be billboard, internet and print media advertising marijuana, marijuana-infused products, and butane hash oil and, unless the [Federal Communications Commission] steps in in ways the [Department of Justice] has not, we will also see TV and radio ads.”  

Although the marijuana stores are set to open in June 2014, Sabet says much of the activity will happen far before that date. He says this is because advertising is allowed now, and no money has been allocated for public health campaigns yet. “The state of Washington seems preoccupied with getting as many marijuana stores up and running as fast as they can – ‘making history,’ in their words – without allocating proper funds for public health messaging,” he says. 

Preventing a monopoly

Franklin says that in the initial drafting of the regulations, there were no limits keeping corporate marijuana, including Big Tobacco, from scooping up enough of the industry to create a monopoly.

However, the final draft of the rules limited any single entity from having more than three marijuana stores. While he believes this will at least halt any plans of immediate corporate takeover, Franklin thinks that the industry will adjust and develop subsidiaries and shell corporations to establish de facto monopolies over time.

The effect on children

Sabet, who is also assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine, believes the new rules will affect children because marijuana-shaped candies and other cartoon-shaped marijuana foods will be allowed. “The marijuana industry wanted to ensure that their product would appeal to future customers. So a parent could buy a plain packaged marijuana brownie, open it, and its cartoon shape would be seen by his children - all legal under I-502,” he explains.

With all of the exposure to minors and children, advocates had hoped for a high penalty if retailers sold to those who are underage. However, the penalty for sales to a minor is $1,000, which Sabet says “is nothing compared to the profits that will be made.”

Franklin, who is also president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, says marijuana is already the number one reason youth enter treatment in Washington and he believes it will only continue to get worse.

The Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, which surveyed more than 200,000 students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in the fall of 2012, found that:

  • Washington youths were perceiving that marijuana is less harmful than they did in years past;
  • More than half of 10th graders reported that it was easy to get marijuana; and
  • Marijuana use among 10th and 12th graders was almost double the percentage of those who smoke cigarettes.

“In my own community, we are working to re-educate parents about today’s marijuana: that marijuana can be infused in almost anything, that today’s pot is three to four times stronger than what they might have smoked in the 60’s and 70’s and that dabbing is sending kids to the ER,” explains Franklin. “Dabbing” is the street term for ingesting butane hash oil.

Medical marijuana

The new rules allow use of “medical” marijuana by those under 18, and allow direct sales to those ages 18 to 21. Since non-medical marijuana is illegal to this group, Sabet believes these young people will be able to get their hands on it here.

Franklin says that Washington is currently the only medical marijuana state without a patient registry and when former governor Chris Gregoire partially vetoed the existing law to protect state employees from federal prosecution, the section establishing medical marijuana age limits was removed. What this means is that youth in the state can get “green cards” when they turn 18 (18 is the medical age of consent and medical authorizations go for as little as $99, Franklin says).

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