Small Town Dialogue Over Marijuana Legalization in Washington State Rings True Nationally
Thirty miles south of Seattle, the small town of Fife is facing a lawsuit over the recent marijuana legalization law. Though you can sell marijuana in the state, the town of ten thousand has decided to ban retailers from opening up in their jurisdiction. The city council cites worries that too many retailers will open and that the extra tax money generated will not be returned to the city. One retailer protested that this was in violation with state law and brought the city to court. A county judge upheld the city’s right to ban sales within city limits, but the case is expected to go to the state Supreme Court later this year.
The interesting thing about Fife is that back in 2012, the majority of voters supported I-502, the marijuana legalization bill that allows for marijuana production, distribution and possession for adults over age 21 in Washington. Now, the town is aware of the possible consequences of implementing the law. Regulating any product requires money and manpower, and when regulating a substance like marijuana, extra diligence is needed to ensure those under the age of 21 cannot access it. I-502 now appears to be failing to provide enough funding to adequately regulate marijuana.
Fife is not alone. In fact, over 100 Washington mayors signed a letter to Governor Jay Inslee voicing their concern that the additional tax revenue will not be returned to the cities that are responsible for enforcing the law. As the law stands, the majority of tax revenue will be distributed to the state general fund, Washington’s Basic Health Plan for youth drug prevention efforts and marijuana public health education. This leaves inadequate funds for small towns with limited resources to adequately enforce this law.
There is another underlying sentiment in Fife. The town, though in favor of legalization, has some apprehension as to how legalization will impact their town, their families and their kids. Regulation is not a silver bullet. If inadequately funded or enforced, regulations may not keep marijuana out of the hands of those most vulnerable to its effects and will bring with it serious consequences. Legalization has the positive effect of lowering arrest rates, especially among minorities, and allows law enforcement to focus on serious crime problems. Legalization always results in easier accessibility and often means normalization, and the citizens of Fife seem very reluctant to make marijuana commonplace among its families.
The tension captured in the Fife lawsuit is one we should all consider. Legalization brings with it very real consequences that regulations may not be able to prevent. Is full legalization the most prudent step to take? If we legalize, how do we ensure that the regulations are fully funded and effective? As these dialogues play out in the states of Washington and Colorado, it is important to fully consider both sides of the legalization argument.
Margaret Raskob, MPH
Margaret Raskob is a freelance blogger for CASAColumbia