In Washington and Colorado, state legalization of marijuana by public vote appears to be leading state and local governments into a new legal and political morass as they attempt to deal with regulatory and taxation issues.
The Bellingham City Council stirred up some anger a few weeks ago in imposing (and quickly lifting) a moratorium on people hoping to launch marijuana businesses here, but a quick scan of news from around this state and Colorado indicates that Bellingham is anything but unique.
Just enter the word "marijuana" in the search window on The Bellngham Herald's website, and you will turn up a long, long list of Associated Press stories from communities in both Washington and Colorado where local elected officials are trying to figure out where to put pot stores and how to tax them. You'll also see some bonus stories from California cities still trying to sort out issues surrounding that state's medical marijuana dispensaries.
In Washington, DC, Vermont's Sen. Patrick Leahy is trying to be helpful on the federal side, encouraging the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify how federal agencies will react to state-sanctioned recreational marijuana stores. Those stores are still criminal enterprises under federal law. Leahy also seems to take a dim view of using limited federal resources to crack down on pot.
Meanwhile, some in Washington state are concerned that the new state stores will be at a competitive disadvantage with black-market pot dealers, whose customers won't be asked to pay the heavy state taxes envisioned under the state system.
The solution? A new crackdown on black market pot dealers. A consultant suggests that Washington state could make a deal with the feds: The feds would agree not to bust state-sanctioned stores, while the state would agree to move vigorously to shut down unauthorized pot-growers.
Even if the feds don't want to make that kind of a deal, it still appears likely that the state would move to shut down illegal pot-growers and sellers, to make the state stores more lucrative for both their operators and the tax man.
Is this what legal marijuna activists thought they were getting when they voted last November?