While Bellingham and Whatcom County try to find a place for newly legal marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions, the state is busy too, hammering out the rules for those businesses with just 38 days before it starts accepting applications.
A recent story in the Everett Herald about a public hearing on the state rules brings out a lot of the questions that remain:
How are these businesses going to get insurance? How are they going to open accounts at federally regulated banks? How are they going to operate without worrying that federal agents will break down their doors?
The concern that strikes me as most salient is less about the disconnect between federal and state law and more about the disparity in what will be three business models for pot in this state:
How will the recreational marijuana business compete with medical marijuana and black-market marijuana, both of which are untaxed?
Anyone who wants to smoke pot today, for medical or recreational reasons, is smoking pot today. How many of these people are going to turn their backs on their dispensary or their dealer and pay a 25 percent tax plus the standard sales tax every time they need to stock up? I can't see that happening. And with more pot being grown in the state, the supply will go up. Won't the prices charged by black-market dealers go down as a result?
I thought law enforcement supported Initiative 502 because they were weary of enforcing the marijuana laws. But if the new legal cannabis trade is to gain any traction, the dealers will need to be discouraged from conducting their business. Every indication is that their business prospects will brighten.
UPDATE: A couple notes from the Tuesday, Aug. 6 meeting of the Whatcom County Council, where Prosecutor Dave McEachran briefed the council about how the new state marijuana law related to county zoning.
McEachran and his peers also are skeptical about the potential of the legal recreational marijuana business.
"The state is thinking they're going to raise a lot of money (through taxes)," McEachran told the council. He and other prosecutors have been talking, and asking rhetorically, "Who's going to be buying at those prices that are extremely high compared to some of the illicit growers?"
The prosecutor had no advice for the council on how to handle the discrepancy in state law (pot=legal) and federal law (pot=still illegal).
"You will have to resolve that question as a council," McEachran said, adding that his job is merely to enforce state law (pot=legal).