Sense and sensimilla: Legalization in Washington State has come with highs and lows

A note to Nevada regarding weed: Don’t make the same mistakes Washington state has made.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore
Meagan Angus

When I left Las Vegas for Seattle in 1998, getting caught with weed in Nevada was a serious offense. Nearly 20 years later, Las Vegas is heading toward widespread legalization, so I want to congratulate you for taking the necessary steps to ensure your personal freedoms. But I also caution you: Don’t make the same mistakes Washington state has made.

The latest weed-related laws passed in our state have effectively cut the supply chain for medicinal users by closing medical dispensaries and forcing patients into the retail market, where prices are much higher and insurance companies don’t help with payments. Many medical dispensaries also allowed patients to consume products on the premises. Remember, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, so those in federally assisted housing (like senior living facilities) risk eviction by possessing or smoking it. And many patients in need of pain control for arthritis or nausea control from chemotherapy have to travel far to find stores that will stock the appropriate strain for their particular condition.

Washington is also considering allowing outside interests to loan capital to local cannabis, potentially creating an environment where stores are encouraged to carry or not carry certain products. And our state has kinda gone crazy with the taxes. A 37 percent excise tax has resulted in prices three to six times what they were on the black market (which, as you can imagine, thrives on). Where are all those taxes going? Well, $128 million gets routed for nebulous funds dedicated to “administration” and “public education,” instead of repairing roads or putting books into schools.

Has anything good come of legalization? Absolutely. The ACLU reports that Washington state will spend $244 million of its cannabis tax dollars on public health care. Drug-related arrest numbers for people of color have dropped. And we’re seeing the average age of first-time smokers actually going up, not down.

From a consumer standpoint, wow, the choices. Walk into any dispensary and you’ll feel like Homer Simpson in the land of chocolate. Producers are free to experiment with new forms of consumables, like concentrates that can provide sky-highs. All told, cannabis has created more than 5,000 well-paying jobs here. Moreover, the Pacific Northwest is on the verge of becoming the “wine-country” for weed consumers, with cannabis tourism on the rise.

All in all, legalization has been a boon to Washington, and I expect it will be for Nevadans too—provided you do it right.

Meagan Angus covers the cannabis industry for Seattle Weekly.

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