Cannabis And The Economy: How’s Washington Doing?

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Cannabis And The Economy: How’s Washington Doing?

It’s long been argued that the legalization of cannabis in the United States would boost its economy, helping the nation survive through the current recession. With the number of states decriminalizin

It’s long been argued that the legalization of cannabis in the United States would boost its economy, helping the nation survive through the current recession. With the number of states decriminalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis on the rise, is this THC-driven economic boom finally showing its face?

Kim Ridgway and Kimberly Bliss, two married women living in Olympia, Washington, might have something to say on the issue. Two and a half years ago, their employing company made an economic mistake and sold failing meat at the time of the recession. They lost their jobs.

They survived on the use of their savings and a bit of part-time work that Bliss was able to find. The situation was bad; until the state of Washington legalized cannabis, and the pair decided to open their “retail marijuana store.”

With around $20,000 or €15,000 of their hard-earned savings in hand, Bliss and Ridgeway are heading downtown and starting their own cannabis shop.

Ridgeway tells of her motivation behind the venture:

“I’m going to work for my American dream, and that’s opening a retail marijuana store. It will be such a financial relief. And we have friends who are struggling, so this will also be putting them to work.”

Many others are looking to opportunity of Washington’s laws, as well. DIspensaries have been running and expanding throughout the the state for several years—Seattle has more than sixty now—which have been, up until recently, illegal under state law.

A range of sellers, from these medical dispensaries to established cannabis companies to new, amateur cultivators just entering the industry such as Ridgway and Bliss, will hit the streets of Washington in 2014 as the WSLCB (Washington State Liquor Control Board) completes their rules and regulations surrounding the state’s new move to legalize cannabis.

And these won’t be shabby, stoner joints (no pun intended) peddling cannabis to shady customers. One report on a Seattle dispensary, ironically named The Joint, describes its clean and organized reception area as “akin to a small-town dentist’s office.”

The Joint even sponsors a little football league and donates a portion of their sales to the Seattle Fire Department (as well as the Seattle Mariners, go figure). “We even run a local toy drive every year,” explains the manager, Shy Sadis.

Sadis, like many other dispensaries, hope his ways of doing business with a professional quality and competent staff will help him obtain a business license for The Joint. With a license for recreational cannabis sales, Sadis would expand his business throughout the state.

So far, Washington’s cannabis economy ooks highly promising. “Seattle is going to be a Mecca for cannabis... And I’m happy and proud to be a part of it,” Sadis says enthusiastically. But one worry among small dispensary and cannabis company owners is the threat of large, corporate companies moving into Seattle and other parts of Washington.

But so far, no big names have invested in Washington’s cannabis industry. And this is due to the clash between Washington’s new laws and the United States’ federal regulations on cannabis. THC is a Schedule I drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Cannabis sellers and Washington officials are still waiting on a reply from the federal government.

Corporate cannabis companies won’t invest until the word comes in. Some smaller Washington investors, such as Kimberly Bliss, worry. “There are risks and challenges for everyone starting a new business... This is a bit of a higher risk... I’m sure federal prison isn’t fun. But if we do it correctly, maybe we can open some eyes,” Bliss remarks.

Ridgway and Bliss probably won’t do jail time for their business venture. But they might open some eyes to the legitimate form that cannabis use has taken today. A WSLCB spokesperson explains some of the thinking behind Washington’s laws: “Part of the reason legislation passed is that this has been going on for a long time. It’s about time we regulated this thing to get revenue for the state from this product.”

The new law, Washington Initiative 502, was first submitted to the Washington Secretary of State in the summer of 2011. By the end of the year, the initiative had collected all 241,153 signatures required to send it to congress. The legislation adjourned to support or oppose the initiative, and as a result, it made it to the papers of the 2012 ballot. Came November, and the people of Washington voted the initiative into law, with nearly 350,000 more Yes than No votes, at 55.7% versus 44.3% respectively. The voter turnout was one of the highest in state history, reaching almost 80%.

But as of now, the federal government can still overturn Washington Initiative 502, as it directly conflicts with the current federal ban on all forms of cannabis and THC. The Obama administration is considering its response, but has no formal decision yet, according to Attorney General Eric Holden.

Colorado is the only other state in the United States to have completely legalized cannabis so far. But, apart from Washington and Colorado, twenty other states have legalized or decriminalized the herb medicinally or recreationally.

All of these states’ laws are in conflict with the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. The federal government has usually turned a blind eye to recreational decriminalization and medical legalization of cannabis, under regulated use. But since Washington is the second state to have ever legalized it completely, how the Obama Administration is going to deal with the new laws is yet to be seen.

Ridgway and Bliss certainly hopes legal cannabis in the state is there to stay, as do many other Washington citizens.Before Washington and Colorado, a state in the U.S. hadn’t passed a law legalizing the herb recreationally since the original ban in 1970. Whether the two women’s company will turn out to be a successful business story, and how Washington’s economy responds to the expansion of the cannabis industry, will illustrate a lot in terms of cannabis’ effects on the economy. If the effects look good, other U.S. states, and other countries, are sure to follow with similar steps.