WASHINGTON: For most of the past 15 years, the state Legislature has had a marijuana problem.
In 1998, Washington voters leapt way out ahead of lawmakers in legalizing medical marijuana. The Legislature seemed as comfortable with the idea as if it was being forced to wear a hair shirt, chafing at making necessary tweaks to the law.
Lawmakers’ boldest act — a 2011 bill written by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, to regulate medical-marijuana businesses — was gutted in an irrational veto by former Gov. Chris Gregoire. Since then, the Legislature has mostly sat on its hands, even as voters, once again, leapt past Olympia to embrace full legalization with Initiative 502.
This time, the Legislature can’t futz.
Retail marijuana stores created by Initiative 502 are set to open in early 2014 under rigorous rules, oversight and heavy sin taxes. Meanwhile, hundreds of medical-marijuana dispensaries statewide will operate without any such regulation, tax collection or meaningful barrier to entry.
That is an untenable legal and commercial conflict. The logical response is to fold the medical-marijuana storefronts into the I-502 recreational market.
Creating a single, tightly regulated system is critical if Washington is to avoid federal intervention with Initiative 502. In an Aug. 29 memo, U.S. Department of Justice said it would stand aside, for now, as Washington experimented with legal marijuana, so long as access was tightly controlled.