For the second consecutive year, state representative Mary Lou Dickerson has introduced a bill (HB 1550) that would legalize and tax marijuana. If the legislation is approved--and that's a colossal if--Washington would treat weed just like liquor, generating an estimated $200 million in tax revenue every year for the state. The lion's share of the money would go toward providing health care, with another chunk of change earmarked for substance-abuse and treatment programs.
[The bill] will generate revenue for health care programs, including effective drug education programs. Producing, selling, and shipping cannabis within Washington will also help create jobs in the agricultural sector . . .
[It] will conserve state resources during the current period of fiscal constraint . . . Each year millions of dollars are wasted on prosecution of cannabis-related offenses. Regulation of cannabis will eliminate these expenses in addition to generating revenue.
Under the proposal, any adult citizen without a criminal record could pay $5,000 for a "cannabis farmer's license." The growers would be required to sell their crops to the state's Liquor Control Board, which would then fix the price of pot to be sold in state-run liquor stores.
Smoking in public would still be a misdemeanor, and selling weed without the state's seal of approval would be punishable by a $500 fine and six months in jail.
The government ganja would be taxed at 15 percent per gram. The revenue--a figure cited at "$400 million each biennium," in today's Seattle Times--would be deposited in a "Cannabis Revolving Fund" to be divvied up like so:
Seventy-seven percent of the funds shall be transferred to the department of health, twenty percent of the funds shall be transferred to the division of alcohol and substance abuse of the department of social and health services for evidence-based substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, two percent to the department of agriculture for administration, and the remaining one percent shall be retained by the board for administration.
The Department of Agriculture would oversee the various growing operations and set standards for growing techniques and quality control. The state-certified bud would then come equipped with "labels for different grades, strains, and THC concentrations."
If this all sounds like, well, a pipe dream, you're probably right. Dickerson introduced similar legislation last year which never made it out of committee.
State senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, sponsor of SB 5073, the bill that would overhaul the state's medical-marijuana system, told the Daily Weekly earlier this month that it's unlikely that a bill calling for outright legalization of pot would have the support necessary to be voted into law.
"There are legislators who have never and will never vote for a medical-marijuana bill," Kohl-Welles said. "People represent districts in all parts of the state. There are more conservative areas. I believe marijuana still has a stigma that has been there for a long time. Devil weed and all that. Some people have not been able to get past that."
She then added: "That stigma is being reduced, but some people can't get past that for whatever reason. I think there are some members of the legislature who worry if they vote for anything with marijuana in the title, it will be used against them in a campaign. I think we're getting past that too. But there are legislators who will only vote for it if prosecutors and law enforcement say it's OK."
And since even the most ardent marijuana-law-reform activists have their doubts about the political viability of Dickerson's bill, it will probably be awhile before you can stroll into the liquor store and pick up a sack of purple haze to go with your bottle of Johnnie Walker Black.
"Anything that moves us toward the direction of people not going to jail or being arrested is a step in the right direction," says Ben Livingston, a member of the Board of Directors of the Cannabis Defense Coalition. "Whether the bill is going to pass is another thing. It's a good conversation starter, at least. I think that's more the intent than anything else."
Here's the full text of Dickerson's bill: