Washington Finalizes Legal Weed Rules

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Washington State officials are ready for weed.

State bureaucrats have finalized rules for Washington’s legal marijuana market, which is set to open to customers sometime next year. The rules were approved by the Washington State Liquor Control Board Oct. 16.

The regulations will allow a total of 334 retail pot shops to do business across the state. Officials spent nearly a year drafting the rules, following a vote in November 2012 to make weed legal in Washington.

Voters in Colorado did the same thing, and pot shops are expected to open there early in 2014. Officials in Colorado approved their own set of regulations last month.

Details of many of the rulesmarijuana approved in Washington have already been made public. Draft rules were published in May, followed by public hearings early in the summer. They primarily cover how pot shops will be selected, licensed and regulated.

Applications for retail licenses will be accepted starting Nov. 18. There will be three types of licenses available: for producers, processors and retailers. The same person may hold producer and processor licenses, but the retail license cannot be paired with another license. In other words, if you obtain a license to sell marijuana, you can’t also grow or process it.

Under Washington’s law, anyone over the age of 21 may possess up to an ounce of cannabis in plant form, 16 ounces in edible or other dried form, or 72 ounces in liquid form.

There is a stoned driving provision under the regulations: If you’re stopped driving and blood tests reveal more than 5 nanograms of delta-9 THC per milliliter of blood, you could be convicted of a DUI.

Washington and Colorado were the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. At least four other states are considering similar votes next year or in 2016. Including Colorado and Washington, 20 states now allow medical marijuana, plus the District of Columbia.

At the same time, public support continues to grow for decriminalization, with about half the country backing full legalization and an overwhelming majority in favor of medicinal marijuana.

Until this summer it wasn’t entirely clear the systems set up by Washington and Colorado would even take effect. Pot remains illegal under federal law, and there was always a looming possibility federal prosecutors would try to shut down weed markets.

Then, in late August, the Obama administration announced it won’t interfere with states that legalize weed – so long as they enforce tight laws and regulations that meet certain federal priorities, such as preventing violence and keeping cartels and gangs away from legal marijuana.

That position raised the stakes on the new regulations in Washington: If they succeed at limiting interstate trafficking, use by minors, and other problems that attend the black market, they may make Washington a pioneer that paves the way for legal weed elsewhere. If not, the feds may change their stance and try to close down pot after all.

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