With just a few years of legal recreational cannabis under Washington’s belt, it seems the cannabis industry may be moving faster than the law makers can handle. Cannabis consumers have waited a long time for legalization and our excitement shows. Simple legalization isn’t enough, we want more. We want cannabis friendly cafes, clubs, parks, bars and restaurants. Our favorite plant has so much to offer, but for all our desires, there are laws and regulations blocking us from our ultimate end goal.
A recent article from the LA Times indicates the direction the cannabis industry would like to go – toward expanded legalization and “Amsterdam style” smoking clubs and cafes. It also speaks to the reluctance the new administration is instilling in the industry, and state level government alike. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has eluded to a tightening of the fist, so to speak, on cannabis and decriminalization.
Colorado state lawmakers recently removed language from a bill that would allow cannabis smoking clubs to exist legally. This was a well-supported law. It had bi-partisan support in the house as well as industry support. Currently there are several private cannabis clubs in operation under fringe laws and zoning regulations, operating in that all-too-familiar grey area the industry is trying to move past. However, they’ve been subject to random raids by local law enforcement.
The bottom line is that the cannabis industry is heading in one direction, or trying to, and the government isn’t ready for it to go there. Yet.
As cannabis consumers push the boundaries of legalization more and more pressure will be put on lawmakers to expand cannabis laws and regulations. Unfortunately those changes could be bogged down in red tape for years just waiting for government officials to catch up with what the cannabis industry already knows; weed is enjoyable and can be extremely beneficial to many thousands of people.
“We as an industry have already come so far. I look back at the industry in Washington when legalization was fresh,” says Amy, an owner of Mary Jane’s House of Grass, a dispensary in Vancouver, Washington. “No signs were allowed on recreational storefronts at all. We weren’t even allowed to give out business cards!” It took those on the forefront of the movement to bring these faults to the attention of the lawmakers and work with them to come to an understanding. “After all,” says Amy, “many of them are business owners, too. We had to make them understand how difficult it would be to have business interactions without being able to exchange information freely and easily, and advertise our existence.”
Laws have loosened in Washington State since. They now allow rec shops to install signage on the outside of their building, within size limits, but they still don’t allow cannabis clubs or cafes like the consumers would like. The industry is teetering on a precipice, waiting to see what the new administration does. Will it crack down? Will it turn the other cheek and let states operate as they see fit? Will they legalize across the board? The industry is waiting on baited breath to find out.
In this post-prohibition landscape it’s difficult to navigate the laws, regulations and rules governing our favorite plant. But we have to remain hopeful that the government will catch up with the consumers’ desires. It’s in our hands as the cannabis community, and the voters who installed our governing officers, to make it known to the lawmakers what we want.
“It’s about education,” says Amy. “We are working hard to de-stigmatize this plant and re-educate people about it. There’s a lot of false information surrounding it, and the entire industry and community at large could benefit greatly from its complete legalization.” She’s right. Washington State has made over $401 million in marijuana tax revenue to date. And that number continues to grow as the stigmas subside and consumers find their way to dispensaries and shops to see what the new era of cannabis consumption looks like.
Could the feds really turn away from such a cash crop? That remains to be seen. Cannabis consumers and supporters need to make their wishes known by contacting their representatives, voting at every opportunity, and demonstrating their support with their buying power. Support for your local dispensary is support for legalization.