Washington’s Marijuana Policies Still Chaotic

THE world is watching Washington’s historic experiment with marijuana legalization, and we’re screwing it up.”  claimed a recent editorial in the Seattle Times.    “The experiment is undermined by a much larger, wildly unregulated medical-marijuana market.”   The state’s failures shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction in Seattle, the paper said.

The state’s major newspaper is clearly disillusioned with marijuana in Washington, even though it supported Initiative-502 back in 2012.  The editorial implied that the medical and recreational regulation should be integrated, calling the legislature’s failure to do so “abysmal.”  At last,  Seattle’s mayor issued a plan to regulate medical marijuana, but it probably doesn’t have much teeth.

Medical marijuana is the marijuana market in Washington,  according to outgoing US District Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan.  Her statement shows the difficulty for a state to regulate marijuana, when medical marijuana was already a huge market.  A journalist who went to three different medical marijuana stores in Seattle came to the conclusion that you don’t need a medical marijuana card or recommendation to buy the “medical marijuana” in Seattle.  Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998.

There are more 300 medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle, more than Starbucks.   Only 45 of the dispensaries paid taxes last year.  Although city council was to allow no new dispensaries in the last year, the city cranked out at least 60 new business licenses for medical marijuana in order to take the money and cash the checks.  Washington holds the largest and oldest marijuana party, Hempfest  It began in Seattle back in 1991 and attendance has grown steadily each year.

Legalization of Recreational Pot Can’t Solve  Medi-Pot Problems

The month before recreational marijuana stores opened in July,  a headline read: “Explosion of Washington’s marijuana industry has some police busier than ever.”  In general the Washington marijuana program is a train wreck, as we described previously.

In 2012, many Washingtonians who voted for marijuana legalization were hoping that it would bring order to the chaos of the poorly-regulated medical-marijuana market.  Many times during the previous decade the state legislature had tried to regulate medical marijuana, but faced stiff industry opposition and they failed to stand up to those business interests.  Initiative 502 was finally designed to enact a DUI limit with marijuana and have strict provisions to keep it away from those under age 21.  Since Washington has always been promiscuous about underage marijuana usage, nothing can change now.  Youth usage, especially as potent hash oil extractions, have become popular.

 What Kind of Explosions???

What kind of fire lasts 7 hours and takes 100 police and fire fighters to stop?   It’s called hash oil explosion, a popular trend with marijuana users who wish to get quick high without paying for the “regulated market.”  A fire in the Hampton Greens complex of Bellevue on November 5, 2013 at 6:20 a.m.  destroyed 10 apartments of the 16-unit complex. Property damage totaled $1.5 million to the building, and about $500,000 to the contents.   One woman died.  Seven residents were hospitalized, and some who had jumped from the upper floors sustained several broken bones.  

An infant survived the hash oil fire in Puyallup, WA, on May 20, 2014.

The Bellevue fire was only the beginning of a trend to follow, as five more occurred in King County during the winter of 2014.  One occurred during the weekend of Thanksgiving.   An explosion in Puyallup on May 20 forced 10 people out of a house, including an infant, who fortunately remained unharmed.   Calls to the state hospital burn units revealed that the state does not keep statistics for those treated for burns related to this specific type of explosion.

Regulating Pot in Eastern Washington

On the eastern side of the state, Spokane city officials are working on an ordinance that would ban the amateur use of a marijuana oil extraction process that has led to numerous incidents since pot’s legalization two years ago.   After one hash oil blast on January 27th, and two men in the apartment complex were hospitalized.  One of the men was treated for smoke inhalation and died of complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease two months after the blast. Donnivan Whitcher plead guilty last month and faces the possibility of 5 years in prison. His girlfriend and her daughter were not harmed from the blast, although other residents were.

Another trial for a hash oil explosion is scheduled in Spokane County Superior Court in January 2015.   This explosion happened when a man attempted to light a cigarette while using a PVC pipe and a coffee filter to create hash oil, according to court records. The car he was driving exploded.  He faces assault and drug charges, as his 3-year-old daughter was injured in the blast. His jury trial is scheduled for January 2015 in Spokane County Superior Court.

Pierce County Detective Ed Troyer told KIRO Radio, after a father in Puyallup allegedly gave marijuana extract to his teen daughter, “We have fire departments responding to house explosions. We have kids inadvertently eating these medibles and getting sick. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg because we’re the state that’s the guinea pig in this entire process.”

Troyer sums up the difficulty of a state legalization initiative.  “Once you get a controlled market, there’s always going to be a black market and there’s always going to be somebody who’s trying to circumvent the system and in doing so, they’re going to get themselves hurt or hurt other people,” Troyer said.