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The very public legalization of marijuana in Washington

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Washington state has had medical marijuana for nearly two decades, but by and large it was not very noticeable. Now cannabis is legal and very much out in the open.

Before legalization, most people consumed their medicine at home. The most outward sign would be the green crosses outside legal dispensaries and ads in the shopper papers for green card issuers. Outside of that one just did not see much of cannabis in public save for Seattle’s annual Hemp Fest.

With legalized recreational use, sales, and growing, what came with this was cannabis literally bursting into the public’s face and up their noses as people began to push the limits of consumption by now consuming cannabis in public like they were typical tobacco products, including while driving.

Given Seattle’s constant stopped traffic, one has extra time to notice things, like the sight of vape clouds coming from the cars ahead, and the skunky smell of pot; I notice it often now. Its like blazing and driving is becoming normal, not to mention smoking a bowl in a parked car in downtown during the middle of the day, and being obviously too baked to drive it, or people sitting out on the front porch in full view. It would seem there is now an ultra-casual attitude about using cannabis, including while driving, and it seems to be more casual the younger the consumer.

These people seem to be of the mindset that cannabis consumption cannot possibly have negative effects on their motor skills (they point to Michael Phelps, and go “see?” despite the fact it’s doubtful Phelps is getting baked hard enough to melt into the couch the night before his competitions). The point though is how much is being consumed and when, not the consumption itself. It’s about moderation, and a seeming lack of it along with discretion.

Of concern too is that these younger drivers tend to be under 21 in age and are still buying street weed and not getting the benefit of the legal weed which has to disclose the strain, THC content, etc. I can only imagine trying to drive a car after smoking a bowl of Master Yoda, it would be like expecting a zombie to drive yet I am seeing and smelling it on the road now on a regular basis, along with people buying their edibles and eating them in the car right in front of the store. When one goes into a WA state legal pot store, everything is labeled clearly, you can talk to the help and get details on what every strain offered is, its effects, learn where it was grown, how it was grown, all of that.

There has also been a great uptick in advertising of weed. We now see multiple large billboards for it along the freeway, which is ironic considering tobacco advertising got banned decades ago, but the catch is the weed advertising does not specifically endorse the smoking of it, leaving that for the consumer to determine when they come in the store. As such they are able to advertise all they want.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

For instance, there are three large weed billboards along the West Seattle Bridge right now (that is a major Seattle thoroughfare, as such it gets major visibility), and in my own town of Port Orchard, we have taken to calling it “Pot Orchard” now as it seems the only new businesses opening up are weed stores.

It’s quite hard to not see legal weed in this state now, in fact it’s hard to not smell it either as the legal pot farms make their presence well known by the huge skunky smells that emanate from them. I discovered one on the way to work one early morning by the large area of effect smell. I started looking around and saw what a legal weed farm looks like, basically a smallish compound behind a chain link fence with razor wire on top, with the fence covered as to block the view from the outside. There is no need to see them though as one can smell them from quite a distance away. Fortunately this farm has no neighbors, but one can imagine the smell could be an issue if it had neighbors downwind.

I recently attended a local Kiwanis meeting where we have guest speakers, and the last speakers were the co-owners of a new pot business that was buying a former restaurant/deli building in our area with the plan of producing baked pot edibles. What struck me by the presentation was how much emphasis they were putting on the medical-side of their production, and cannabis in general, but how their business name, and branding was clearly aimed at the recreational market. It was like they did not want to discuss recreational use at all and were making extra effort to present themselves as a pharmaceutical even though their medical product is only a fraction of what they intend to produce. Not that I mind much, but I thought it odd to not be publicly embracing that unless they think doing so would somehow generate local resistance. The presentation seemed a bit misleading on that point, wanting the feel good vibe of medical pot, while glossing over recreational.

So what is the point of all this rambling? In short it seems with legalization of recreational use, attitudes, particularly among younger people, have changed about pot, and they are perhaps trivializing its use, considering it in the same light as vaping tobacco and often seem to not care that it does have an effect on cognition, one that changes based on the strains and varieties, and given they are still not buying it legally, they have no idea what they are actually getting, but are willing to hop in the car and drive around right after smoking a bowl, and are quite willing to self-medicate with it too, despite never having seen a medical professional who is certified on the use and effects of medical cannabis, let alone getting a prescription for the formulations designed for medical use.

They seem to think any weed is good as a medicine and really don’t want to be told otherwise. Add on to that the lack of discretion in consumption around some pretty obvious, public locations, enough to make the smell a regular fixture around town. They seem to view pot as the proverbial “free lunch,” that it is all upsides, no downsides, and are now behaving like there are no consequences to freewheeling consumption, like not being able to get a job due to failing a pee test, that is still a thing here, or the fact that possession is only legal up to an ounce. They also don’t seem to understand that reselling it to their friends is still very much illegal, making one a “dealer.”

Not to mention we are a border state, and live within 100 miles of a border crossing, making it so the Border Patrol can have random checkpoints, and for them, weed is still very illegal. Not to mention with the Coast Guard on our state ferry system.

The “in your face” consumption has actually led to some public figures who supported legalization to get buyer’s remorse. For instance, local Libertarian radio talk show host Dori Monson, on KIRO 97.3, is now regularly expressing regret over voting for legalization due many of the factors already listed, primarily concerning people simply not having any discretion at all in consumption, and failing on a large scale to actually learn about what it is they are consuming and how to responsibly manage it.

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Chris Edgin

Chris lives in Tacoma, Washington and works in the IT field.

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