Our Voice -- Pot smokers: Follow law even if costs are higher

Those over 21 can legally buy pot in Washington, but they might have to drive awhile to find a city that allows retail pot businesses.

Several folks from Pasco lined up at the Altitude store in Prosser to be among the first to buy marijuana when it went on sale July 8.

Initiative 502, passed by our state's voters in 2012, made it possible.

The state has several kinks to work out in its system, and only gave retail shops a day's notice that they had been cleared to open.

Supply is an issue because approval of authorized producers is moving slowly, and most stores still have limited hours and inventory. The state only has approved licenses for about a quarter of the 2 million square feet approved for marijuana farming.

But for those who like to smoke pot, it is a joyous time. The Prosser store served 300 customers in just over six hours on opening day.

The imbalance between supply and demand pushed prices up, with retail sales ranging from $20 to $30 a gram that day. And just like alcohol and cigarettes, there are significant taxes.

But we hope that doesn't deter pot smokers from purchasing at state-approved outlets. The only way the system is going to work in Washington is if it's supported by those who use the product. If everyone sticks with their neighborhood black market dealer, this grand experiment will fail.

While many in Eastern Washington voted against the initiative, majority rules in this process, and pot is legal, like it or not. Farmers, a dependably conservative bunch, saw the business opportunity in the legalized agricultural commodity, and some Mid-Columbian agrarians have signed up to grow it.

Navigating the sales of legalized pot is a challenge every step of the way, because possession is still a federal crime. Farmers have been told they can't use water from the federal reclamation project that supplies irrigation to most fields.

Bankers are wary of doing business with marijuana retailers or growers for fear of federal regulations.

And if you buy pot legally and smoke it while camping in a federal forest, you could be busted for possession.

It's tricky, to be sure, but time and patience will sort out many of the questions. Cities will have to make decisions on whether to allow legal businesses inside their limits rather than continuing to extend moratoriums preventing them from setting up pot shops. The prospective business owners deserve an answer so they can change course if necessary.

So far, we haven't heard of any significant problems with retail sales. The system is monitored by the same state agency that licenses vendors and enforces liquor laws. Retailers are keeping a tight handle on sales and access. They want to succeed, and some are even providing cannabis coaches and "budtenders" to help guide buyers in their purchases.

If you're inclined to partake, remember to follow the law and the system in place if you want this industry to succeed.