Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.
Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Legal pot in California could have social justice impact in WA

Matt Carlucci, president of the Center for Palliative Care in Seattle, says legal pot in California could mean fewer people sent to jail.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Willmer
Matt Carlucci, president of the Center for Palliative Care in Seattle, says legal pot in California could mean fewer people sent to jail.

One vote in November isn’t on the ballot in Washington but could have ripple effects here. It’s the initiative to legalize marijuana in California.

Matt Carlucci is president of the Center for Palliative Care in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. His former medical marijuana business is empty now, awaiting a state license to become a marijuana producer and processor.

Carlucci said he’s excited at the prospect of legalization in California from a social justice perspective, because it could mean fewer people in jail for selling or using marijuana.  

California’s ballot measure would allow people charged in the past with drug crimes to seek state licenses. The city of Oakland passed an ordinance going even farther. 

“The city of Oakland is investigating ways to distribute permits to families who have been directly affected by the war on drugs, meaning they’re in jail for drug crimes, or in communities that have been disparately impacted by drug law,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci said he’d like to see Washington business owners and the state do more to help people and communities affected by past drug laws. 

From a business perspective, Carlucci said if marijuana is legalized for recreational use in California, consumers will start to see the same marijuana franchise stores and brands along the West Coast since marijuana is already legal in Washington and Oregon.  

“Obviously the businesses are separate entities because you can’t be crossing state bounds with product and money,” he said. “But there are brands that will license their brand to other states.”

Like the popular California strain known as Cookies.

“They have retail stores that are known as The Bakeree,” Carlucci said. “There are a good amount of those stores in California. And so entrepreneurs in Washington will be licensing that name to open up those stores here.”

Carlucci and Seattle attorney Robert McVay said Washington’s strict rules on local ownership and other regulations will keep small businesses somewhat protected from the growth of “Big Marijuana” nationwide. But they could see expansion in the number of banks willing to take them as clients.

While credit unions and smaller banks in Washington now serve marijuana businesses, large banks have stayed away because of federal regulations. McVay said the California vote would likely change that.

“California’s a different animal,” he said. “It’s just such a large business environment that it’s going to look a lot more attractive to banks and financial institutions. So we may see some bigger players come out of the woodwork and start to take a few more risks.”

With California onboard, McVay said marijuana lobbyists will also have greater means to seek change in their federal tax burden.  

“The major push we’re still seeing and we’re going to continue seeing until it changes is federal tax status of these businesses,” he said.  “They continue to be taxed at a punitive rate where they’re not able to take their standard business deductions like other businesses do.”

McVay said marijuana businesses are already seeing a striking example of their expanded lobbying presence. Congressional spending bills in 2015 and 2016 contained provisions barring the use of federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana offenses in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ban, saying the Justice Department cannot currently bring cases against individual patients, growers or dispensaries in those states.

Washington’s marijuana tourism would diminish if California votes to legalize. But McVay said the state is already less of a destination than Oregon or Colorado because Washington banned businesses where people are allowed to openly use it. As for public health consequences, a Rand Corporation report says the vote would likely mean more people reporting marijuana consumption. But experts are still trying to understand what that means for driving, and use of other substances like tobacco, alcohol and opioids.

Year started with KUOW: 2005