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The Evergreen

Seattle Times coverage of pot policy, culture and lifestyle.

June 30, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Everything you want to know about legal pot in Washington

A medical marijuana grow operation. (Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, 2013)

A medical marijuana grow operation. (Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, 2013)

Answers to all of your questions about the new legal retail marijuana system and much more.

Who can consume legal pot

Let’s be clear: Washington voters legalized weed for adults, not minors. Minors can’t legally consume pot. Under state law, it remains a felony to sell to minors or furnish minors.  Even the most prominent of the technically illegal delivery services that have sprung up in Seattle won’t serve minors.  Keeping pot away from minors is one of the eight priorities laid down by the U.S. Department of Justice in allowing Colorado and Washington to proceed with their legal pot experiments.

How old must you be to legally buy or possess pot in Washington?

You have to be at least 21 to legally buy or possess pot. Minors can’t even go into legal pot stores — expected to begin opening July 8 — or any state-licensed pot businesses, meaning legal growers and processors can’t bring their own children into their workplace for a tour. Minors can’t work in the legal pot industry.

How will the new law be policed?

The state Liquor Control Board plans to employ minors to conduct sting operations at legal pot stores.  Sales or service to a minor by a licensed store will result in a 10-day license suspension or $2,500 fine for the first violation. A second violation will lead to a 30-day suspension and a third will cause a cancelled license. If you want to purchase legal pot, you had better bring valid identification with you to the store.

What about tourists and out-of-state friends? Can they purchase, possess and consume if they’re 21?

Adults from out-of-state are treated no differently from Washington residents by our law. They may purchase and possess up to one ounce of pot. That is different from Colorado, where out-of-staters are only allowed to buy one-quarter of an ounce. Because Colorado is surrounded by states with conservative pot laws, and because of its central location, its officials were more concerned about “smurfing,” the practice of aggregating small amounts of drugs and then smuggling them out-of-state. With abundant weed to the north and south of Washington state, officials here did not see smurfing as a problem. The challenge for tourists is finding places to legally consume, as our law forbids consumption in view of the general public. See our “Where to Consume” FAQ for more.

By the way, how much is an ounce of pot in practical terms?

Joints can obviously vary in size. Snoop Dogg’s blunts are probably much bigger than Martha Stewart’s “bones.” A half-gram is a reasonable estimate for the weight of an average joint. That means an ounce, at 28.4 grams, would yield roughly 57 joints.

Will the state track my legal pot purchases?

State officials say no. Retail stores will check ID  but will not keep records of who buys pot, never mind how much.

Can medical-marijuana patients buy pot in the new retail stores?

Yes. While the new law is often described as a “recreational pot” law, it does not differentiate between types of consumers. All are treated the same under the law, for now. That means, however, that medical patients will pay the same stiff taxes as recreational users. Taxes include state and local sales tax, plus a 25-percent retail excise tax. Producers and processors also pay a 25-percent excise tax when they sell to retailers. Expect the state Legislature to more strictly regulate medical marijuana next year. That could lead to some stores having a separate section for medical patients, with trained budtenders, and perhaps even lower taxes.

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The basics of pot today

710, 420, THC, CBD, 502, LCB: The new world of legal pot in Washington state has its fair share of acronyms, numbers, policy wonkishness and funny-sounding scientific names. Here’s a basic (jargon free!) look at the world of pot today.

So what should I be calling marijuana these days?

The short answer: Whatever sounds best (we’ll be doing this).

The long answer: In I-502, the initiative voters approved to legalize pot, the state calls it marijuana. Some activists and scientists call it cannabis (though that word refers to the whole plant and a variety of species). Lots of people (including most news sites) call it pot. There’s not a consensus, and there’s something of a debate over how to refer to it correctly.

In his book, Pot Inc., author Greg Campbell explains the history:

“A certain faction considers marijuana itself pejorative and racist, based on a longstanding theory that narcotics agents in the 1930s chose that word over the more scientific cannabis when crafting drug laws; the word is of Mexican-Spanish origin, and thus, the belief is, sounded more exotic and sinister. For others, cannabis is too pretentious to take seriously.”

To add to that, the words pot or weed are often considered too casual because they were commonly used as slang.

We’ll be using all of these words somewhat interchangeably. But there are some key distinctions.

Cannabis is the name of a plant, of which, some parts are not intoxicating. For example, hemp is a strain of cannabis that doesn’t contain enough THC (we’ll get to THC later) to get you high.

The state refers to marijuana as all parts of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration greater than 0.3 percent.

So what’s THC?

THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. Basically, it’s the primary chemical in getting you high. Pot contains various levels of THC and other cannabinoids, which are chemical compounds found in cannabis that affect neurotransmitters in your brain.

Any other cannabinoids I should know about?

CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis that is believed to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.

In fact, according to the UW’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute (UWADAI): “CBD may actually have anti-anxiety effects and lessen the psychoactive effects of THC.”

Many medical marijuana patients use high-CBD marijuana for its healing properties.

So what are these strains I keep hearing about?

A strain refers to a specific, genetic variety of cannabis, usually bred and cultivated for certain attributes. If you go into a pot shop, you’ll have plenty of options, from the Bubba OG to Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.

Some strains are designed to get you more high; others are designed to make you less high and provide more medical effects. Some parents are moving their children to Washington and Colorado so they can have access to high-CBD pot strains.

But sometimes, strains aren’t what they’re advertised to be, which is a big problem for medical patients looking for high-CBD strains.

In the recreational system, pot must be tested and labeled to show its concentration of THC and CBD.

Breeding?

There are two main species of cannabis: indica and sativa. Indica varieties usually contain a higher ratio of CBD, whereas sativas have a higher concentration of THC.

Indicas are more likely to give you a full-body high and put you to sleep. Sativas, meanwhile, are often said to inspire energy and creativity.

Most strains these days are hybrids of the two species — bred by pot growers for certain characteristics. Judging by the number of pot varieties on Leafly, Gregor Mendel would be proud of these marijuana botanists.

So is pot more potent than it was back in the 70s?

Yes. How much more potent is still a question, though. Here’s a good assessment of how potency has changed.

What is hash oil?

Hash oil is a concentrate extracted from marijuana using flammable solvents. BHO (butane hash oil) can be 40 to 70 percent THC. It’s often called shatter, budder or wax and doesn’t look unlike the stuff you find in your ears.

How do you use hash oil?

Typically, people dab hash oil by using a metal nail to push a small amount of wax onto a hot metal dome.  The dome’s heat vaporizes the dab of oil, which is drawn up through a glass pipe.

Making hash oil

Under the state system, only licensed pot processors can make hash oil for sale. Amateur chemists often try at home, but without proper lab equipment, the process is rather dangerous and there have been a handful of BHO-related explosions of late.

710

Dabbing has developed into a pot-smoking subculture, so obviously it has its own number to complement, or compete, with 420. If you flip the characters in “710” around, you’ll see the word, “oil.” Get it?

Edibles

Marijuana’s cannabanoids are fat soluble — meaning you can dissolve THC, CBD and more into butter or other fatty substances.

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What are the potential harms of marijuana?

President Reagan once said he had proof that smoking one joint is “equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast.” President Obama, a prodigious toker in high school and graduate of Harvard Law School, offers strong evidence to the contrary.

Leading cancer researcher Dr. Jerome Groopman has noted that debates about marijuana tend toward the subjective, with players viewing data like Rohrschach blots.

Even when credible studies appear to reach important findings, other studies undercut their conclusions. Look no further than the crucial issue of how marijuana impacts the developing brain. The so-called Dunedin study, well-known in pot-policy circles, found heavy use in adolescence was associated with stunted IQ. A new study from Norway, using the same data, said factors other than marijuana, such as socio-economics, were to blame.

 Roger Roffman spent his career as a marijuana researcher and dependence counselor. A University of Washington professor emeritus and former pot-smoker, Roffman believes many people can use pot without harm. But experience has shown him that others can be hurt by it.

 To get beyond hyperbole and scare tactics, Roffman points to a brochure produced by the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute as a model for accurately conveying the risks of marijuana. Many of the answers below are informed by the Institute’s brochure.

What are the risks for occasional adult consumers?

Here’s what the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI) says: “Adults who don’t have heart disease or psychiatric conditions, don’t get high during pregnancy or when it’s dangerous, and use pot occasionally probably aren’t at risk of any harm to their health.”

But some infrequent users, such as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, say they felt horrible after consuming pot-infused edibles. What about that?

Dowd felt extremely uncomfortable, but there’s no evidence her health was harmed by consuming too much of an infused candy bar that contained 16 recommended doses. As the UW Institute advises, first-time marijuana users may experience anxiety or panic; use a small amount at first and wait an hour (two, if consuming edibles) to learn how it affects you.

Anything else I can do to avoid anxiety or panic?

Yes. Under state rules, labels on pot products must show the percentages of two main chemicals in pot: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. THC is the main component associated with feeling “high.” Selective breeding in recent years has increased THC levels while driving down CBD. But CBD is believed to have anti-convulsant and other therapeutic qualities and growers are breeding it back into plants. CBD may also blunt the peak high from THC and have a tendency to reduce anxiety or paranoia. So if you’re really concerned about paranoia, look for pot that has more than 1 percent CBD content. If the high-CBD pot has little or no THC, and you want the feeling of getting high, consider mixing samples of high THC and high CBD strains.

Can I overdose from pot?

There is no known fatal dose of marijuana. If there is such a dose, it would have to be 1,000 times the amount typically consumed, according to the academics who authored “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know.” The authors note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 26 deaths between 1999 and 2007 as mental or behavioral disorders from the use of pot. “The key distinction here is between a poisoning death — a fatal overdose of the drug — and a death caused by intoxicated behavior, or by persistent mental illness triggered by drug use, or by suicide by someone whose life-chances had been badly damaged by substance use disorder,” said Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor and co-author of the book about legalization.

Citing the case of a young man in Colorado earlier this year who fell to his death after eating a pot-infused cookie, Kleiman said he “surely died from cannabis use, but the cannabis didn’t poison him.” Any intoxicant increases the risks of accidents, Kleiman added. And pot is less risky than alcohol in that regard – as some 7,500 die each year of accidental falls due to being drunk, he said. But the claim that “no one ever died from cannabis” is false, he said.

Still, even if all 26 deaths were related to overdose, and not other factors, Kleiman and his co-authors say the three deaths per year would be equivalent to the risk of dying in a commercial plane crash. There are non-fatal overdoses for sure, as tens of thousands of people end up in hospital emergency rooms every year for reasons related to marijuana use. The vast majority are treated and released without being admitted.

Does pot smoking cause cancer?

Scientists are not certain if pot smoking increases the risk of cancer. Many studies have not found an increased risk, according to the UW ADAI.

Will it damage my lungs?

The latest research suggests that smoking is likely to increase symptoms of chronic bronchitis, such as coughing and wheezing. Scientists also are concerned that the way pot is smoked – by inhaling deeply into lungs and holding smoke there – can lead to tar being deposited in lungs.

Can getting high cause memory problems?

The main psychoactive ingredient in pot, THC, can affect specific sites in the brain, including the hippocampus, which is associated with memory. Scientists think getting high can impede your short-term memory, or ability to remember recently learned information. It does not impact other types of memory, such as the ability to recognize things, or recall a learned skill, such as riding a bike.

What if I’m pregnant?

THC crosses the placental barrier, just as alcohol does. We still don’t know enough to be certain about all the risks. But scientists believe regular marijuana use during pregnancy can lead to babies born with reduced weight. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research suggests that babies born to women who used marijuana during their pregnancies may have subtle neurological alterations and, later in childhood, can show diminished problem-solving skills, memory, and attention. However, the fact that pregnant women who use marijuana may also smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol makes it difficult to determine exactly how much of these effects are attributable specifically to marijuana.

Can pot impact my mental health?

Again, the science is not conclusive. Some people get depressed when high, others psychotic. But scientists aren’t sure if pot causes these problems, or other factors. But there is an important exception, according to the UW Institute. People vulnerable to psychosis, or who have a history of it, face a risk of having a psychotic episode if they get high. For teens, scientists believe, the risks of mental-health problems are greater if they consume pot.

What other risks do teens face?

The chief concern for young people is that their brains are still developing. The pre-frontal cortex, for example, might not develop the way it is supposed to if a teen smokes a lot of pot. That could lead to memory problems, learning difficulties and problem-solving struggles. And these problems could be permanent. Teens who use a lot of pot might also have increased chances of depression or other mental illnesses.

Is pot addictive?

Not for most people, according to the UW Institute. It doesn’t take priority over responsibilities at home, school, work or with friends. For some, though, pot use looks a lot like addiction. They want to cut back or quit, but they don’t follow through. Important things, such as friendships, are sacrificed so they can get high. Some scientists estimate that 9 percent, or 1-in-11 pot smokers, develops the symptoms of addiction. To avoid such problems, the UW Institute advises getting high once a week or less.

Is driving while high dangerous?

Yes. Driving high increases the risk of accidents, although not as much as alcohol does. Driving high can cause impairment, such as slower reaction time and divided attention, or distraction. If you must drive,give yourself three or four hours if you’ve inhaled marijuana. If you’ve ingested an edible, the safety margin needs to be hours longer.

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What you should know about legal pot stores in Washington

The state hopes parking-lot pot transactions with sketchy dealers die out in favor of trips to your state-regulated pot shop. Here’s what you need to know about stores:

Where are stores located?

The short answer: The Liquor Control Board (LCB) has licensed 25 stores so far. Here are their locations:

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The long answer: We know where 25 stores are located, but that’s just the beginning of the story.

Because so many people applied to hawk pot, the LCB held a lottery to determine who would receive the first licenses provided they’re following all of the LCB’s rules. Lottery winners in disallowed locations are disqualified, according to the LCB.

Here’s a map of those who won the lottery:

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Map: Represented are the locations of pot-store lottery winners in Washington as well as potential pot-store locations in communities that did not have enough applicants to warrant a lottery. (Map by Matt Kreamer / Evan Bush)

As you can see, in Seattle there’s a large concentration of stores in SoDo, and a mini-cluster in Ballard.

Before proprietors receive their license, the lottery winners (or golden ticket winners — check out how much potrepreneurs think a license is worth) must have their financial and operations plans approved, pass criminal background checks and pass a final inspection once their stores are ready for market.

Where CAN’T there be stores?

What do pot stores and sex offenders have in common? The state doesn’t want them near kids.

Initiative 502 was very direct in its attempts to keep pot out of kids’ hands. Here’s how the Liquor Board puts it:

“You cannot set up a store within 1000 feet of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library, or game arcade that allows minors to enter.”

One caveat — the buffer must be 1,000 feet as the crow flies. Even if a river separates a school and potential pot shop, there still has to be 1,000 feet between them (kids can swim, you know).

Because dense neighborhoods usually have kids running around, certain parts of the Seattle will be veritable pot deserts. For example, Capitol Hill’s hipster haven will not be serviced by a pot store, because there isn’t much, if any, territory where a store would be allowed.

How many stores will there be?

The state said it would initially only license 334 stores, but that number might drop to 305 because no one applied to sell pot in 29 locations that the LCB had allotted licenses. Seattle will have 21 stores.

How can they advertise?

Don’t expect leafy green billboards any time soon. Retailers are only allowed a single sign with their businesses’ name on it. That sign can’t be bigger than 1600 square inches (about 11 square feet). To prevent access to kids, advertising isn’t allowed anywhere pot shops aren’t (schools, parks, etc. like we discussed above). Metro buses won’t be getting a green makeover — you can’t advertise there, either.

And newspapers? Well, if you were investing in The Stranger expecting pot to be a financial windfall, now would be the time to sell. Because newspapers are distributed to public places, pot shops can’t advertise in them, reports The Inlander. What about TV or radio? The Inlander says it’s unlikely because the Feds regulate the airwaves. So far, TV stations in Colorado have not aired commercials for pot shops, according to Ad Age.

You won’t be able to window shop for weed, either. Storefronts can’t have window displays and must keep the goods behind a counter.

Who can go in?

Anyone who is 21 or older can patronize a pot shop, but that’s it. In fact, stores are required to post signs that say, “Persons under 21 years of age not permitted on these premises.”

When can stores open?

Early risers, have no fear, you can wake and bake (or just stock up) when pot shops can be open at 8 a.m. Stores must close at 12 a.m. They can be open seven days a week.

What products can they sell?

Pot shops can only sell pot, pot-infused products and paraphernalia. Edibles and liquids (hash oil and pot-infused beverages) must be pre-packaged in childproof containers.

Keep in mind, retailers are only allowed to sell, and not process, pot. That means the brownies come out of the oven somewhere else, and you can’t buy them direct.

Can I sample?

Only with your nose. Retailers are allowed to keep a small sniffing jar on site, but the rest of the product must remain behind the counter.

What about delivery?

Just because you can have your pot brought to your door by a woodland creature, doesn’t mean you should — or that it’s legal.

Only state-licensed businesses can sell pot, and delivery isn’t allowed. So far, we haven’t heard of Seattle police busting delivery services, but they could.

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Where can I legally consume pot in Washington?

Imagine yourself lounging on Alki beach, joint in hand, relaxing to the rhythmic advance and retreat of the waves.

Now unimagine that, because public consumption isn’t allowed and it’ll cost you a $27 fine.

Can I consume in the park?

No. That would be “in view of the general public.”

Can I consume in the street?

Nope. Public.

Can I consume at the bus stop?

No. What are you not getting here?

But I see people smoking in public all the time?

That doesn’t mean it’s legal.

Can I consume in the privacy of my own home?

Yes! As long as you’re in possession of no more than an ounce of usable pot, you can legally smoke to your soul’s content.

But… I live in an apartment complex. What about me?

Landlords can ban smoking on their properties (including cigarettes), so you’ll want to check on that. What’s less clear is if landlords are able to ban consumption by other means. Edibles, tinctures, lotions and even vaporizers are likely allowed under state law. Federal law, of course, is another story, and landlords could rely on that to disallow consumption. But how would they know? And would that hold up in the courts? That’s not clear.

Your best bet: Ask your landlord, be respectful of your neighbors and don’t toke it up with wide open windows.

So if I can’t smoke in my apartment and I can’t smoke in public, what am I to do?

Good question, and something that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes aims to address. In a letter to the Liquor Control Board, Holmes called for the LCB to study “private use clubs or similar accommodations.

Holmes’ Deputy Chief of Staff, John Schochet, said the City Attorney will be proposing a solution later this year that would allow people to consume edibles and vaporize pot at marijuana cafes open to the public.

“It’s a problem we recognize, and it’s something we’re working on to solve that problem,” Schochet said. “If you don’t give people a legal place to use marijuana, they’re going to do it on the sidewalk.”

What about a friend’s house?

If your friend consents, and you’re not in view of the general public, that’s legal!

What about your patio?

Sure, so long as you can’t be seen by the public. If you’re in your backyard and your neighbors can’t see it or smell it, you shouldn’t have a problem.

“If it brings a large amount of smoke into your neighbor’s yard and it bothers them, it’s probably actionable,” Schochet said.

What about hotels?

Just like cigarette smoking, whether you’re able to light it up inside a hotel depends on where you’re staying. Seattle mandates that 75 percent of its lodging rooms be smoke-free.

Are edibles treated any differently?

“You can’t use them in public,” Schochet said. “Are you likely to be noticed? No. But they’re legally treated the same under the law.”

Edibles will, however, circumvent a landlord’s no-smoking rule.

If I go on a camping trip, am I allowed to partake?

Some would argue there’s no better time to contemplate the complexities of the universe than with a bowl underneath a bowl full of stars. However, clashing state and federal laws makes that a complicated endeavor. Because National Forest rules are enforced by the feds, you could get busted for possession, which is punishable with up to a year in prison.

“Members of the public are also advised to remember that it remains against federal law to bring any amount of marijuana onto federal property, including all federal buildings, national parks and forests, military installations, and courthouses,” said the Justice Department in a memo.

State parks are public parks, so you wouldn’t be allowed to fire up a bowl outside. But what if you’re inside the confines of a tent or RV in a state park?

“If you’re doing it within the confines of your own tent or RV, then you can (partake),” said Toni Droscher, a spokeswoman for the state parks commission. “You can’t in a state park-owned yurt or cabin or platform tent.”

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What baby boomers need to know about pot

So you’re a baby boomer — between 50 and 68 years old. Your generation made “grass” a part of counterculture. Now, you’re interested in this new legal pot. But you hear it’s really strong. And it’s green, not gold or brown. And those edibles sound good because they don’t make you cough. But Maureen Dowd ate one candy bar in her Colorado hotel room and got so high she lay “panting and paranoid” for eight hours. How do I avoid the Maureen Dowd experience?

We’re here to help. Put away the double-album jacket, there are no seeds in this pot.

No seeds? They used to account for about a quarter of an ounce’s weight back in the day.

As has been the case in Washington state for decades, our high-quality marijuana comes from unpollinated female plants and is called “sinsemilla” (“Without seeds” in Spanish.) Unlike the Panama Red and Acapulco Gold of yore, sinsemilla is green – often with orange and purple highlights – and it is more potent.

How potent is it?

Legalization opponents such as Patrick Kennedy like to warn about today’s “genetically modified” super-weed. First, it is not genetically modified, as confirmed earlier this year by truth-checking Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at Politifact. It is selectively bred like apples or wheat for qualities such as color, smell and, yes, potency. Second, it is strong. University of Mississippi research shows that sinsemilla potency increased from 5.8 percent THC in 1993 to 8.8 percent in 2008. In a study for the White House earlier this year, the RAND Corporation reported that average potency of pot in the United States  increased from 5.2 percent THC in 2000 to 8.1 percent in 2010. But that is all pot – and it includes non-sinsemilla weed that RAND calls “commercial-grade.” For a better indication of what’s available locally, check out the website of Seattle lab Analytical 360, which posts the results of all its tests in the past 60 days. A recent scan shows samples ranging between 7 percent and 23 percent THC. The 20 most recent samples averaged 13.25 percent THC when we checked in mid-June.

OK, what’s that mean to me?

Back in the 1970s, the mean potency for pot was about 3 percent, according to Politifact. According to the University of Mississippi, the high mark in potency for today’s marijuana is around 25-27 percent.
So, yes, today’s pot is more potent. But lab tests in Seattle suggest that what’s commonly available is not anywhere near as potent as it could be, or as some claim.

Here’s how the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute puts it: “Depending on how analysis was conducted and the sample analyzed, marijuana strength has increased by 2 to 7 times since the 1970s, measured by THC levels. “

How will I know how strong it is?

The state rules require that all pot products carry labels showing the levels of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), a chemical in pot known to have anti-convulsant and other therapeutic qualities.

What about price? I used to get an ounce for $40 in the late 1970s.

In Seattle, medical-marijuana dispensaries tend to sell very good pot for about $250 an ounce. Prices are expected to be quite high when retail pot shops first open in Washington, as they were when Colorado opened its first stores in January. The high prices in Colorado reflected an initially low supply and extraordinary demand.

In Washington, we should expect something similar. The state will have licensed just a fraction of the applicants who applied to grow when stores first open. With scarce supply and the state’s stiff marijuana taxes, officials are expecting high prices at the outset, then taper downward as supply increases and more stores open. Ounces were selling at some Denver shops for $150 in June.

I hear a lot about vaporizers, what are the advantages of using them?

Vaporizers heat pot to a point where the marijuana doesn’t combust but does release vapors containing pot’s key chemicals. This is less harmful to your lungs.

There are two main kinds of vaporizers: those that use dried plant matter; and those that use oil made by extracting key chemicals from the plant.

Here at The Evergreen we bought a Snoop Dogg herbal vaporizer at our news room auction to benefit the United Way (Mr. Dogg had sent a complimentary vaporizer to the paper.) It fits in a pocket, but is fragile and has some design flaws. It works, though, and creates a vapor that’s gentle on the throat and lungs. It still gives off the telltale odor of marijuana but it’s less noticeable than it would be from a joint or pipe.

Most vaporizer pens use oil, which has a different buzz – less sharp and euphoric in The Evergreen’s opinion.
The bottom line: “Take a look at vaporizers to reduce the risk of lung damage from inhaling smoke. Using edible marijuana products is also an effective way to prevent any lung-related problems,” according to the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

But what about Maureen Dowd’s nightmarish experience with a THC-infused candy bar? Aren’t edibles scary?

A lot of ground to cover here. First, the obvious; while Washingtonians voted to legalize weed, not all are experienced with how to consume it. Those pot-laced truffles look sweet and pretty, but they can pack a wallop. You need to start by understanding the potency of any edible before taking a bite. State officials consider 10 mg of THC to be a single serving size or dose. The candy bar Dowd ate contained 16 servings, something she claimed not to know. So look at the total THC content of your edible and ingest just a 10 mg dose, or less, to start. You can always take more — but you can’t go back and take less. That’s just one bit of sage wisdom from Denver Post pot editor Ricardo Baca’s eight tips to edibles.

It’s also crucial to understand that it takes much longer – often well more than an hour – for your body to absorb THC through your stomach and liver than through your lungs. That’s why all edible products in Washington stores are required to carry this warning: “CAUTION: when eaten the effects of this product can be delayed by as much as two hours.” The key lesson from “the Maureen Dowd experience,” as some are calling it, is that if you don’t feel high at first, don’t gobble more. Wait. Only increase your dosage after waiting more than an hour, maybe two.

So why does everyone now seem to talk about how stoned you can get instead of all the great things you can do when high, like communing with nature, protesting war, or fighting The Man?

Because you are The Man now and you need to be numbed and distracted from the mess you’ve made of this planet. We agree on your larger point, though. NPR’s This American Life recently solicited goofy stories about the “time you were so high that you…” But why stick with that tired stereotype? What about the time you were so creative or reflective, when high, or so nicely buzzed that you were enraptured by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s rendition of “As You Like It,” as the performance began under a salmon sunset and finished under sparkly stars.

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Where the money from legal pot goes

You’ve probably seen the numbers out of Colorado that suggest the state is raking in the dough from pot sales. How will that play out in Washington? Will Washington be bankrolling schools or building roads with some kush cash? How it works:

Where does the money come from?

Taxes. There are several rungs (and licenses) in the pot-supply chain. Between each rung, a 25 percent tax gets paid out to the state.

* Under the law, producers can also be processors, and therefore avoid a 25 percent tax.

* Under the law, producers can also be processors, and therefore avoid a 25 percent tax.

For example, if a pot grower (called a producer) sells $100 of pot for processing, the state will collect $25 from the grower.

If that processor then decides to make marijuana-infused cupcakes and sells a package of them to retailer for $150, the processor will pay $37.50 to the state.

And when that retailer sells those cupcakes for $250 to a consumer?

The retailer would pay $62.50 to the state.

A few things to note:

Under the law, producers can also be processors, and therefore avoid a 25 percent tax. Consumers will pay sales taxes as they would when buying any other good. Pot businesses still pay business and occupation (B&O) taxes.

So where does it go?

State sales tax and B&O taxes go directly into the state’s general fund.

The Liquor Control Board will dole out pot excise tax revenue every three months, and I-502 is very specific in outlining its destination. Let’s look at how it will shape out over a full year.

First, $5.72 million of the tax revenue is cut off the top:

– The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) gets $500,000 for the Washington state healthy youth survey.

DSHS also gets $200,000 to create a cost-benefit analysis that outlines the effect of legalized pot on the economy, public health, public safety and quite a bit more.

– The University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Initiative will receive $20,000 a year to publish “medically and scientifically accurate” information on pot.

– The Liquor Control Board will get $5 million to administer the laws of legal pot.

Didn’t Colorado make $3.5 million from the first month of legalized pot? Surely there will be more tax revenue.

Any extra revenue is earmarked primarily for prevention, research and health, with a chunk for the state’s general fund.

Here’s a breakdown:

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How much does the state expect to make out of this deal?

No one really knows.

Initially, the state’s Office of Financial Management said the state could reel in anywhere between zero and $1.94 billion in pot revenue over five fiscal years.

In February, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council estimated the state would see $586 million from pot between 2015 and 2019. That number includes revenue from sales tax as well as B&O taxes. Although stores open in July 2014, the council did not make projections of revenue for this year.

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What happens to medical marijuana?

There are compelling reasons for state officials to clamp down on our wildly unregulated medical-marijuana system. The chief one is that when strictly regulated, stiffly taxed recreational pot stores open, the medical dispensaries will be rival dealers, able to undercut the new stores in prices. They can also sell to minors, while recreational stores can’t.

But state officials have failed in several attempts to adopt more strict regulations. In 2011, lawmakers passed tough new regulations in Senate Bill 5073. But Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of that bill, for fear that state employees overseeing the system could be arrested by the federal government, which considers all forms of pot illegal.

Lawmakers took another run at regulations this year. A bill passed easily in the Senate, but died in the House on the last day of the legislative session. For now, medical marijuana remains as it was before recreational pot was legalized.

Why can’t medical marijuana co-exist with the recreational system?

The main problem, mentioned above, is that the medical system could siphon off many consumers and tax dollars from the recreational system. But there are others.

Some lawmakers believe the medical system is largely a fiction, with the majority of patients authorized for fraudulent reasons under the broad condition of “intractable” pain. Seattle Times reporter Jonathan Martin wrote about his 2012 experience at Hempfest, where he received his medical authorization at a tent, after an 11-minute consultation, without his medical records. State officials later suspended the licenses of the naturopaths involved, saying they were running an “assembly line.”

In other ways, the medical system has evolved into commercial operations the original 1998 law did not envision. In applying for a recreational pot license last year, dispensary owner Sean Green reported that his nonprofit, Pacific Northwest Medical, had annual revenue of $800,000 and his salary was $129,600. There are now an estimated 300 dispensaries in Seattle, although dispensaries are not allowed by the state’s medical-marijuana law. The medical system allows patients to have such large quantities that some lawmakers believe medical pot is being diverted illegally to non-medical users. Washington allows patients to have 1.5 pounds of marijuana, for instance. Of the 22 states with medical marijuana, only Oregon allows patients as much. Washington also allows patients to grow up to 15 plants. Colorado, known for liberal pot laws, allows patients two ounces and six plants.

So why doesn’t the state crack down?

It’s easier said than done. Patients and medical-marijuana providers have organized an effective lobby. Many have sympathetic stories, such as Ryan Day, a former U.S. Marine, who provides medical marijuana to his 6-year-old son with a severe form of epilepsy. And they have impassioned arguments as to why they need to grow their own plants, possess as much as the law allows, be exempted from taxes, and have products they think will not be sold in recreational stores. In the Legislature earlier this year, a bill died in the House of Representatives on the session’s last night, despite personal lobbying by Gov. Jay Inslee. It would have allowed medical-marijuana sales at recreational stores, perhaps with a tax exemption, sold by trained personnel. Lawmakers said the bill was doomed by politics (Republicans wanted a cut of pot taxes for local governments, while Democrats didn’t), other legislative priorities and lobbying by medical-marijuana interests that wanted to kill a rushed, scaled-down bill coming out of the House.

Wouldn’t it be unfair to force medical patients to use recreational stores?

Not necessarily. As one of our recent stories showed, medical-marijuana strains are sometimes not what they purport to be in name, chemical content and genetics. This is particularly concerning for patients seeking pot low in intoxicants and high in pain-relief or other therapeutic qualities. And there’s this irony: the recreational law requires that all pot be tested by accredited labs, and that the chemical content determined by those tests be shown on all package labels. The pot must also be certified as safe from contaminants. That means recreational-pot users will soon have greater assurances about the safety of the pot they buy at retail stores than the best-educated patients have in the largely unregulated medical system, where testing and accurate labeling are not mandated for dispensaries.

Didn’t the city of Seattle outlaw dispensaries?

City officials adopted a law last November mandating that all medical operations must have a state license by Jan. 1, 2015. That seems unlikely to happen. But the city has been lax about medical operations in the past. It will surprise some if the City Council sticks to its 2015 deadline.

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Comments | More in Ask Us Anything | Topics: 420, 710, analytical 360

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