I-502 dies if marijuana black market lives

The Washington Legislature’s one best chance to preserve the regulation of marijuana will come and go in 2014.

If Initiative 502’s scheme for legal – but tightly controlled – pot retailing and farming flops next year, it’s likely to stay flopped.

The marijuana black market has deep roots in a massive subculture of users, and it enjoys the tolerance of many local governments. To the extent it persists after next year, it will outsell and undermine the controlled outlets. Traffickers will strangle I-502 in the cradle if lawmakers and local councils don’t take effective action against the thriving underground industry.

The low-hanging buds of the black market are the hundreds of pseudo-medical pot dispensaries scattered across the state (and concentrated in Seattle and Tacoma).

Contrary to their owners’ pretenses, for-profit dispensaries operate completely outside state law. All sales of marijuana have been explicitly illegal in Washington for the better part of a century. None will be legal until the first licensed and regulated shops open, and they will then be legal only in those shops.

At that point, recreational marijuana will be available to anyone 21 or over in legal circumstances. Some shops will cater to medical users. There will be no remaining rationale to tolerate illegal and unregulated dispensaries.

The Liquor Control Board – which is charged with making I-502 work – has identified ways to eliminate dispensaries and return medical marijuana to what it was until a few years ago: a last-resort remedy for the relatively few severely ill people who can’t be treated effectively with conventional drugs.

The board’s most important recommendation is that lawmakers tighten the issuing of the “green cards” that allow people to claim they are using marijuana for therapeutic reasons.

Existing law allows quacks to literally sell medical authorizations to perfectly healthy patients – young dopers, even gang members – who report phantom discomfort. Lawmakers should enact the board’s recommendation that the pain “be severe enough to significantly interfere with the patient’s activities of daily living and ability to function, and can be objectively assessed and evaluated.”

Washington’s medical, nursing and naturopathic authorities have been shamelessly passive as marijuana quacks have arrogated the prestige of their professions and posed as legitimate healers.

Among the board’s recommendations is a ban on “practices” that consist of handing out green cards long distance – by Skype, for example – with only cursory exams. Stop the bogus authorizations and the state’s booming dispensary-quackery complex will start withering.

That would leave the underground marijuana market, whose often-armed traffickers and growers have no intention of going out of business just because the voters passed an initiative. Washington’s experiment with controlled marijuana won’t stand a chance unless local, state and federal authorities decide to put the fear of god in illegal dealers – the ultimate enemies of I-502.