Bans on licensed pot stores will increase crime

February 12, 2014 

Infamous bank robber Willie Sutton once said that he robbed banks, “Because that is where the money is.” Local jurisdictions will soon be dealing with a new wave of criminal activity if they refuse to allow legal, regulated I-502 marijuana stores.

The jurisdictions that allow these carefully regulated operations, very similar to the old state-run liquor stores, will see a dramatic drop in sales to juveniles and illegal sales by criminal elements.

The criminal organizations cannot and will not try to compete; they will move to locations where there are no I-502 stores, fight it out with other criminal organizations for market share and try to take over each other’s turf.

Far from reducing crime, jurisdictions that ban the regulated I-502 stores will be throwing their doors wide open to it. That is where Willie Sutton would go — to the unregulated criminal market — because that is where the customers and money will be.

Those who think that banning I-502 stores will make marijuana less available are out of touch with reality.

Anyone, anywhere in Washington state, can buy marijuana whenever they want to. I was a police commander and detective for more than 25 years and worked narcotics as well. There is no practical, functioning regulation today that actually stops its use or sale to anyone, kids included.

Additionally, no one currently knows what they are buying, which is why we have so many emergency room visits. Can you imagine buying a bottle of alcohol and not knowing if it was the strength of beer or 151 rum, or if it has LSD or methamphetamine in it?

That is what we have today with the current criminal marijuana market; you really don’t know what you are getting. Without tax revenue from marijuana sales, we don’t have the benefit of using proceeds to warn kids and adults of the dangers of using this product.

By a wide margin, Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, which legalized a carefully regulated and taxed marijuana market. That is the will of Washington voters. The decision has been made.

It is, however, important to understand why they did it. It was not to encourage people to use marijuana or even to suggest it is a good idea. It’s not. Citizens approved the marijuana legalization and regulation initiative because the old prohibition laws are not working. They are tired of the endless abuse, crime and violence associated with the current market run by criminal elements. They want something more rational and safe.

Marijuana sold in state-licensed I-502 stores will be packaged, labeled and tested with potency listed on the label. Marijuana sold in these stores will not be sold to kids like it is today. Strict regulations have been developed by the Liquor Control Board to prohibit the marketing of marijuana to young people.

Taxes will be paid on marijuana that can then be used to warn people of the dangers. Warnings will be placed on marijuana packages that inform people of the harm that can result from using the product. This is a vast improvement over the unregulated criminal market we have today where kids buy marijuana and individuals all too frequently end up in emergency rooms.

Local and county jurisdictions can certainly zone and regulate where I-502 stores may be located and how they operate, but outright bans and moratoriums are ill-advised and unsafe. Local jurisdictions should also be allowed to share in the revenue from marijuana sales so they can use the money to educate folks about marijuana risks.

Opposing the will of the voters by imposing bans and moratoriums on state-regulated, taxed and licensed I-502 stores is naive and will only invite the remaining criminal organizations to shift operations to those jurisdictions and fight it out in the streets over market share.

That is not what the voters wanted.

State Rep. Christopher Hurst represents the 31st Legislative District — which includes Sumner, Bonney Lake and Buckley. He chairs the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

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