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Washington State: GOP Chairwoman Claims Increase in Black Market Since Legalization

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In an interview with Roll Call, a new Power Brokers news series, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers expresses her opinion on a variety of topics including marijuana legalization in WA State.

The Chairwoman’s home state, Washington, legalized marijuana for adult consumption in 2012. The interviewer, Melinda Henneberger, asked Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers whether recreational marijuana legalization has changed life in WA State and if the legalization of pot was related to the heroin epidemic that is so widely covered right now.

 McMorris Rodgers touched on a few sensitive topics in her response. She claimed that the legalization of recreational marijuana has led to a “concern about the underground economy, and um, activity, that is related to marijuana in Washington State.” Essentially, she’s saying that legal weed has increased black market sales.

But let’s back-up and look at how Washington legalized pot for adult consumption. In November of 2012 the initiative passed making the possession and consumption of weed legal for anyone over 21, yet access to ‘legal weed’ was impossible. In other words, there were no places to actually buy legal weed. The first recreational store opened in July of 2014. For 20 months, the herb was legal to carry, legal to smoke (in the privacy of your own home), but illegal to buy anywhere! I’m not exactly sure what legislators were expecting, but it’s pretty apparent they actually created the need for a black market.

You can’t just legalize pot and assume people are going to wait patiently until you figure out the structure. That’s like giving a kid an awesome Christmas present they’ve been waiting years for and then saying  “Oh, but you actually can’t use it for a year and a half. Sorry!” It’s not too hard to understand that people who have never gone to the black market before are suddenly going to turn to their friends and ask who has the herbal connect.

Not to mention, in 2012 there were more medical shops open in Seattle than Starbucks. There wasn’t a lack of product but rather a lack of safe access to product for adults that didn’t have their medical card. Anyone over 21 who was excited about weed being legal had nowhere else to go besides the black market.

Oregon recently legalized pot, and their model for transition was quite inventive. They realized their citizens would be excited about this new-found freedom, so once the bill passed, they allowed all the existing medical shops to sell up to 7 grams of flower to anyone over 21. This harnessed the population’s excitement. You could visually see it in the mile-long lines outside of medical shops. It also generated $ 3.2 million dollars of revenue on the first day, and $ 11 million in its first week. These are the highest sales out of any state to legalize marijuana. This structure is short-term as the state transitions into a recreational structure and begins licensing growers and retail outlets. But rather than let their population sit around and be left to fall into the black market, Oregon provided them with safe, legal access.

Another reason the black market has seen an economical jump is the diminishing medical market. Proponents of Initiative 502 (legalizing marijuana for adult use) promised over and over again that the passing of this bill would not affect the existing medical marijuana industry. There was a large ‘Anti-502’ movement from the medical community who were sure their livelihoods would be at stake if this initiative passed. Unfortunately, they were right. The first day of legal recreational pot was the beginning of the end for medical marijuana in Washington State.

As medical marijuana retail outlets dwindled, patients were forced, unwillingly, back into the black market. Why? Patients treating serious conditions including cancer and epilepsy require high dosages of concentrated cannabis, a product that is considered illegal in the recreational market. A high tax is placed on recreational pot products that make treating ailments unfeasible. Patients were faced with the decision to live illegally in the midst of the black market, or pick up and move their families to another state where they are allowed safe access to medical-grade marijuana again.

Lastly, the reporter, Melinda Henneberger, and Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers both made points linking marijuana to increases in opiate addiction. This is strange because researchers have actually found that in the 23 states where medical marijuana has been legalized, opioid-related deaths have fallen by an average of 25%. According to the 2011 World Drug Report, U.S. States with medical marijuana saw dramatic decreases in overdose deaths from opioids like morphine, oxycodone and heroin – 20% decrease in the first year, 25% by year two and up to 33% decrease in years five and six. Not to mention, that 6 out of 10 of these overdoses are by patients who have a legitmate prescription from a single doctor; they are not obtaining these opiates illegally on the black market!

This Roll Call interview portrays marijuana as a gateway drug by insinuating that heroin addiction is increasing in legalized states despite the facts and scientific evidence. How much longer are we going to call pot a gateway drug and ignore the real gateway drugs?

A study published in the Journal of School Health aimed to determine which drug, between alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, actually led to the abuse of additional substances. The study found the drug that does the most damage is actually the most socially accepted: Alcohol. The study concluded that high school students who used alcohol “exhibited a significantly greater likelihood of using both licit and illicit drugs.” Unlike cannabis, if a kid decides to experiment with alcohol and drinks too much, it could be fatal. Smoking too much weed may scare you away from ever smoking weed again, but at least you will not die

There needs to be more cannabis education for our elected officials – and everyone for that matter. Learning more about the plant is the quickest way to grow out of the long-held, negative stigmas still held by many in the United States.


Here is the interview, 10:00 is when Henneberger asks the question about marijuana.


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