The two states whose voters blazed new ground in the decades-old marijuana policy debate by voting to legalize the drug in November are inching toward frameworks for normalized, regulated marijuana businesses.
In Colorado, members of the legislature's joint marijuana committee are meeting Friday to discuss 58 recommendations made by the state's Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force, which had been given de facto authority to craft marijuana policy. The Denver Post reports that members of the committee have until the end of March to write the task force's recommendations into a bill, which would have to be approved during the current legislative session that ends May 8.
Colorado will begin accepting applications from businesses interested in selling marijuana in the fall, and the first shops could open in early 2014, The Post reports. During Thursday's debate in the committee, a straw poll revealed that legislators support a proposal that shops must grow 70 percent of the marijuana they sell.
More contentious details, The Post reports, include items that are seen as giving a virtual monopoly to existing medical marijuana shops, including a recommended "grace period of one year that would limit new applications for adult-use marijuana licenses to medical marijuana license holders in good standing." Another proposal would require two years of Colorado residency for would-be business owners.
In February the task force voted to recommend allowing out-of-state residents to purchase marijuana within Colorado. Discussions by the legislature's committee Friday will also delve into this proposal, which could result in financially beneficial marijuana tourism for the state.
In Washington state, where a carefully crafted legalization initiative imposed tight restrictions on marijuana, stores could open as early as December. This week, state legislators debated a bill that would lower a restriction that shops be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries and day care centers—a rule that would prohibit shops from opening in many densely populated ares. Another proposal in the bill would allow the state to auction off permission to operate in certain areas. Currently the state stands to gain a $1,000 annual licensing fee from each business, but this proposal would add to the state's coffers.
The Seattle Times notes that changes to the Washington law within the first two years requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Some opponents of changing the distance restriction, including initiative author Alison Holcomb, fear it might increase federal scrutiny and spoil hard-won progress.
As of January, Washington state planned to approve marijuana retail and producer licenses in August and allow stores to open in December, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
After the December legalization of up to one ounce of marijuana in Washington, attorney and activist Douglas Hiatt told U.S. News the vote was a "pyrrhic victory" for marijuana reformers and "didn't get rid of prohibition." Hiatt explained that the referendum did not legalize growing, selling or distributing marijuana among individual citizens.
Since the successful legalization votes in Washington and Colorado, legislation has been introduced to legalize and regulate the drug in Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. As in the pioneering states, each of the proposals would not legalize marijuana for adults under 21 years old.