As the 2011 state legislative session kicks off today, budget-sensitive lawmakers will be presented with two opportunities to make our state marijuana laws work better for Washingtonians and to generate much-needed revenue that can save vital government services.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles will introduce a bill to bring clarity to the gray areas of the Washington State Medical Use of Marijuana Act and make the law work better for patients, their families, and the communities in which they live. It would create a system for providing patients well-regulated access to an adequate, safe, and secure source of medical marijuana, an issue that has been studied in depth by the state Department of Health. Creating such a system -- with licensed entities regulated by the state -- also would generate significant business taxes. Currently, patients are forced to try to grow their own medical marijuana or send friends and family members to the black market to buy unregulated, untaxed marijuana.
In the area of non-medical use of marijuana, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson will introduce a bill to make marijuana available to adults 21 and over through state liquor stores. According to numbers in the state Office of Financial Management's fiscal note for the 2010 version of the bill, the state would have received roughly $300 million in new revenue per biennium had the measure passed. Moreover, cities, counties, and the state would have realized $25 million in criminal justice savings each year - resources that could have been redirected to more serious priorities like preventing, investigating, and prosecuting violent crime.
Legislators face the challenge of crafting a budget that reflects a clear vision of how to deploy public resources most effectively. Passing marijuana laws that make better use of those limited resources is the right call to make.