Marijuana legalization
3:22 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

Marijuana Notes: If it passes, possession is legal on Dec. 6th

If Initiative 502 passes, walking around with a bag of marijuana (up to an ounce) will be legal just in time for the holidays … so take note, gift-givers (and be aware those of you who might think the law takes effect right away). 

Even though the elaborate state-regulated apparatus for growing, processing and selling marijuana would take more than a year to come online, simple possession would be legal starting December 6.

On that day, 30 days after the election, police would have to stop arresting adults 21 and over for possessing up to an ounce of cannabis. Of course, the only legal way to buy and sell it, through the state-run stores, won’t exist yet. But initiative spokeswoman Alison Holcomb said people wouldn’t have to prove where they got it.

“That means however you wound up coming into possession of marijuana, it is not a crime for you be in possession of marijuana. There are about 363,000 current users of marijuana in this state, so they’re getting it somehow,” Holcomb said.

Driving limit starts up too

But beware, along with legalized possession, the legal limit for driving would also go into effect one month after the election. That means anyone caught driving with more than five nanograms of active THC in their blood could be prosecuted for driving under the influence, and there would be zero tolerance for anyone under 21.

Starting on Dec. 1, the state Liquor Control Board would have to begin making rules for how to implement the initiative. By December of 2013, they would start taking applications for permits from would-be growers, processors and retailers, and instruct them on how they’d have to conduct their business.

Soon after that, realistically in early 2014, the first legal, non-medical marijuana stores in the nation would open up in Washington state … unless, of course, the courts (or the feds) intervene.

Will it pass?

CLICK to enter: We’ve been updating the live blog below through the weekend and will continue to add news items throughout election day and night.

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Previous Marijuana Note:

How much marijuana the average user will use is a key question in the debate over legalizing the drug. Did the state guess right?
Credit Jay-P / Flickr

“… and assuming 2 grams of marijuana per use …” states the Washington Voters Guide’s  “Consumption Assumption” section of the rundown on Initiative 502, which would legalize and regulate cannabis in Washington state.

That number went right past us, but a Seattle Reddit user quipped: “According to the voter guide, Washington marijuana users are expected to smoke Cheech and Chong sized monster joints.”

And, while that led to some joking around, that number is also pretty significant because it is one of the key numbers for estimating how much tax revenue legal marijuana could generate.

That section of the voters guide is based off of documents provided by the state Office of Financial Management. We have some calls out to them asking where the number came from and what “per use” means and will update.

Updated 5 pm: "I don't know what people will use," said Julie Murray, OFM's legal and legislative director. She said the number also includes group use.

In the end, though she said it was just a number they came up with after stating all of their assumptions. The public can lower or raise the grams per use, plug it into OFM's assumptions and come up with possibly as relavent a number.

"It's not a statement of me knowing what people will use," she said. 

Here's what 2 grams of oregano looks like ... you know, for example.
Credit Jake Ellison / KPLU

Still, it's a pretty high amount.

“I would say the average person … what we would consider smoking a bowl, that’s anywhere from .25 to probably .5 grams. Like if you were going to sit down and have a session, that’s usually what you would end up loading,” said Ben Reagan.

Reagan is a co-founder of the Center for Palliative Care in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, a medical marijuana dispensary. He added that a cigarette-sized joint would run about .7 grams.

He said average regular users would use around a gram a day with the top 20 to 25 percent of users reaching 2 grams a day. Those using 2 grams or more a day typically have serious medical conditions and are not doing much more in a day other than treating their symptoms, he said.

We also surfed the Web and found this exchange on a chat board from 2010:

“I generally smoke about .3 grams in a bong. Only .3 grams and I can get pretty high. .5 grams and I'm really [expletive deleted] high. Are these amounts normal? And what about you? And if you smoke with friends, how much do you actually smoke, not including friends?”

The follow-up answers ranged as high as 1.5 grams in a session with this caveat: “1.5+ grams typically yields mild colour enhancement, but I can hardly function at an acceptable level.”

Here’s the two relevant Voters guide statements:

“Applying this consumption pattern to an estimated 363,000 Washington marijuana users, and assuming 2 grams of marijuana per use, the number of grams consumed annually is estimated at 85,100,000 grams.

“The initiative generates an estimated range of zero to $349,341,000 over five fiscal years from state sales tax and state B&O taxes.These taxes are deposited into the State General Fund, which may be used for any governmental purpose as appropriated by the Legislature.” (Plus other fees that raise that number to nearly $600 million benefit to the state)

Now in all fairness, OFM has faced a very difficult task trying to figure out what the value of marijuana sold in state licensed stores would be, what the usage would be and so on. After all, it is an illegal substance, for the most part. And the state number crunchers used the phrases “estimates assume” and “we lack sufficient data” to great effect.

So what number would be more accurate?

Well, if the initiative passes, we’ll all find out the answer to that and many other questions ...

We’ve done our best to address the key questions in our “If it’s legal …” series:

We also have more “Marijuana notes” here: