Washington’s Unregulated Weed Dealers Upset They Now Must Obey Laws


I was tagged on Facebook by some of the Washington Medical Marijuana Drama Queens I wrote about last column. The post contained a video of King County Sheriff Urquhart and reps from the state Liquor Control Board having a press conference to discuss how the unlicensed, unregulated dispensaries in the county are going to be shut down.

The No-on-I-502 types showed up to form an angry mob around the press conference, shouting down the sheriff, claiming how terribly the patients will suffer and how the sheriff was “the Mafia” just trying to force the sick to fund “his stores”. Screaming about how the sheriff is taking her “business”, a business that has always been illegal and funded by patients, but it’s the state who’s wrong for making a buck on patients.

Like I said, drama queens. So, once again, I wade into the comments to explain to the boys who’ve cried wolf far too many times that since I-502:

  • Misdemeanor marijuana arrests DOWN 98%
  • ALL Marijuana court filings DOWN 63%
  • ALL Marijuana court convictions DOWN 81%
  • Retail Price of Marijuana DOWN 55%
  • Marijuana DUIDs DOWN by 300

Certainly not the “shooting hippie fish in a barrel” Steve Elliott predicted.

It’s not patients you’re worried about, it’s your profits

So sorry, shouting illegal dispensary owner, that you no longer have your own special rules to play by that required people like me to be arrested and imprisoned. Well, by that I mean “healthy”, not “white”, since proportionally more black people were being arrested and imprisoned. Not that you cared much about that, because nobody else’s suffering compares to you making money on the sick.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, you and your customers, er, patients, STILL get your own rules to play by in Washington. You get to grow 6 plants (or more if your doctor says so), I get to grow none. You get to form four-person co-ops to grow 60 plants, I don’t get to. You don’t have to pay sales tax, I do. You get to possess three ounces, I only get one.

Comprehensive  comparison of state medical marijuana programs, sorted by plant and possession limits
Comprehensive comparison of state medical marijuana programs, sorted by plant and possession limits

Your new patient limits, by the way, drop you from having the best medical marijuana program of 24 states to about 6th. You’re one of just over half the states (13/24) that allow all patients to home grow. Only five states allow more possession, only three have a voluntary registry like yours, and you’re one of just over half the states (13/24) that cover the Big 8 conditions (cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cachexia, spasms, seizures, nausea, and pain).

And the price? Shit, the price of weed, even with your ridiculous 25%+25%+25% I-502 tax, is the second-lowest in the nation! I just saw a $225 ounce of primo Skunk #1 in Vancouver – with tax. Patients in 22 other states wish the weed was as cheap. Sorry, that should’ve read 19 states, since the last three medical marijuana states don’t allow you to have bud. Or, it should have read 48 states, since every other state in the nation has higher weed prices except Oregon.

Now the legislature dropped your tax to one 37% tax. Economic analysts predict at least a 25%, perhaps a 50% drop in price as that tax relief at the production level is eliminated and retailers can reduce markup thanks to how the tax restructuring changes federal tax filing. Oh, how the patients will suffer with $125 ounces!

Certainly not the $600 ounces Steve Sarich predicted.

Then there’s Oregon. As of October 1, we’re likely to be selling marijuana tax-free to all adults from our medical marijuana dispensaries, of which there are over 250. That will absolutely crash the price and all those Vancouver shops making money on Portlanders will wither, forcing them to cut their price, and a ripple effect will work northward (and eastward) as Oregon and Washington compete over the pot market.

Achieving Political Ends By Shouting Really Loudly

I also see y’all still have the same level of political maturity as well, still showing up to other people’s press conferences and throwing temper tantrums. How’d that work out for you in 2012?

Hi, soccer mom, I'd like to legalize marijuana
Hi, soccer mom, I’d like to legalize marijuana

Did you ever stop to think about optics during the I-502 campaign? Imagine your average soccer mom who is generally ambivalent about politics and cautiously against marijuana solely because she worries about her kids.

She’s watching the news one day when a raven-haired professional-looking lady comes on the screen, claiming to be the campaign director for legalizing marijuana. Her? Why, she looks like me, thinks the soccer mom.

Soccer mom listens awhile and is beginning to believe the lady’s message. Yeah, drug dealers don’t check ID. Taxes for schools would be nice. Maybe legalization will work.

Then the lady is followed by a tall, boyishly good looking man. Say, isn’t that the Europe travel guy from PBS? He’s a nice fellow. I can’t believe he’s for marijuana legalization. Maybe there’s something to this, she thinks.

Then the county sheriff appears, and he, too, is for this legalization. Soccer mom is impressed and is now considering she’ll vote for I-502. But there’s still a doubt in her mind. After all, this is marijuana and what about the children?

Hi, soccer mom, I want you to vote against legalization.
Hi, soccer mom, I want you to vote against legalization.

Just then, the nice lady, the nice man, and the sheriff are interrupted by the shouts and catcalls and some profanity by a bunch of people in blazing red t-shirts. They’re fervently against this legalization. They’re screaming how it will kill medical marijuana patients. They’re rudely trying to position their red NO signs in front of the blue YES signs for the TV cameras at YES’s press conference. They’re kind of rag-tag looking, some tattoos, some piercings, some long hair — to soccer mom, a bunch of raggedy stoners.

Wow, if the stoner types I’m afraid my kids might turn into don’t like this I-502 thing, soccer mom thinks, then there MUST be something good about it. And in that moment, No-on-I-502 turned another swing vote into a YES.

Just like shouting at a sheriff at his own press conference is turning swing votes against any of the protests by the illegal unlicensed untaxed pot shops in Washington State.

Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge…

Now, you can keep slagging me for supporting the end of my own criminality and voting contrary to what the DEA prefers, that’s fine. The problem is that in doing so, you fail to take any responsibility for the mess medical marijuana finds itself in, leaving yourself vulnerable to bigger messes.

Yes, we're all very, very sick.
Yes, we’re all very, very sick.

Medical marijuana claimed it was for helping the truly sick and disabled, and then the public was treated to naturopaths in a tent at Hempfest serving a line of mostly under-30, healthy-looking men on their way to a Kottonmouth Kings concert.

Medical marijuana ignored the fact I-692 never created retail storefronts for marijuana sales, and winked at the public claiming “This isn’t a storefront and I’m not a clerk, I’m a caregiver. That’s not a line of customers; the first guy in line is a patient whom I’m a caregiver for. Then when he leaves, I’m a caregiver for the next patient. But there’s no storefront here.”

Medical marijuana then ignored the legislature when it closed that caregiver loophole, exploiting the new loophole of collective gardens. “This isn’t a storefront and I’m not a clerk. I’m one of the members of the collective and that’s not a line of customers. The first guy is a patient who wishes to join our collective. Then when he leaves, he quits the collective and the next patient in line joins the collective. But there’s no storefront here.” Wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean?

What Makes Washington Differ From Oregon and Colorado?

Washington is a special case, no doubt about that. Have you asked yourselves why there was no corresponding patient revolt over Amendment 64 in Colorado? Because there were no corresponding medical marijuana shenanigans in Colorado; they kept their shit tightly regulated from the beginning.

Or Oregon, why no corresponding patient revolt over Measure 91 here? We had the same 24 ounce limit as you and a big plant allotment for patients. We had dispensaries that cropped up before they were legal, with winking going on about “reimbursements” allowed by law. Why do we still have our medical marijuana system mostly intact, and, in fact, improved on in the wake of legalization here?

Because for one, we had a mandatory patient registry and a stricter system of approving cards, so there were less bad optics for the public and the legislature (no doc-in-a-tent at Hempstalk). Two, our leaders were working with the legislature in good faith to create a regulated dispensary system instead of screaming that registering patients is like registering sex offenders (what an insult to patients in 18 states). Three, the shenanigans that did occur, like a 104-patient garden serving only Californians, didn’t find our leaders slavishly rationalizing the shenanigans, but rather working in good faith with the legislature to address the excess without harming the majority.

So keep tagging me, I’m endlessly entertained by the drama of weed dealers wailing about having to finally follow regulations. But if you want to slander me with “he doesn’t give a damn about patients, and has loudly trumpeted his support for I-502 and for shutting down medical on numerous occasions,” you first need to travel with me to Georgia, where my sick friends there still have to buy baggies in parking lots from shady dudes and constantly worry that getting caught with even a gram means going to jail. You need to visit my sick friends in Pennsylvania who can’t get a highly-limited medical marijuana law passed because legislators point to the West Coast medical marijuana states and declare THAT won’t happen here! You need to visit my sick friends in New York, Minnesota, and Louisiana who only get non-smokable forms of cannabinoids and can’t grow their own plants because the West proved to them that home grow medical will be abused. I’ve been trying to help establish medical in Texas, Missouri, Florida, and many other states that would kill to be Washington right now.

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on CannabisRadio.com, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland NORML.in 2015.