A British Columbian’s guide to legal pot in Washington state

The first retail outlets to sell marijuana in Washington state are expected to open across the state in July, almost two years after voters legalized recreational use of the drug.

They will be opening in stages as licences are issued by the state’s Liquor Control Board, which is responsible for overseeing the new production, processing and retail network. Washington will eventually have 334 retail outlets.

What does this mean for a British Columbian intending to cross the border to smoke dope in Washington state? It means make sure you follow the rules.

“The legal environment here is that you are safe to possess up to an ounce,” said Patrick Michaud, a public information officer with the Seattle Police Department.

“You are safe to smoke in the privacy of your own home — which means no public smoking. You’re not even allowed to smoke on your front porch.”

An ounce is the equivalent to about a quarter to a half-inch along the bottom of a sandwich bag, he said. An ounce is equivalent to 28.3 grams.

“As long as you are not out rolling a joint in the park, no one will have a problem with it,” he said.

Seattle police will treat the use of marijuana the same as alcohol — just as drinking on the street or in a park is prohibited, so is smoking marijuana.

If you are a tourist staying in a hotel or motel, he said, make sure you check with the owners before lighting up.

“If you’re staying in a smoking motel, that’s up to them. It’s on their policies. We would recommend that you ask. Everybody here is pretty friendly. It’s not uncommon for that to happen.”

As for smoking outdoors, Michaud added: “For lack of a better way to put it, if nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

Washington voters passed Initiative 502 in November 2012, legalizing marijuana and allowing for the state to establish a legal system of production and distribution.

Whatcom County, the northernmost county abutting the international border from the coast to Manning Park, could have as many as 15 retail pot stores, including up to six in Bellingham. In King County, where Seattle is located, there are 191 applicants vying for 61 licences.

Some of the names of the licence applicants in Seattle are Cannabis City and American Mary; in Whatcom, Grateful Green and People of the Medicine.

Licence applicants are being vetted for their financial history and whether they have a criminal record. Each retail outlet has to be at least 1,000 feet from places where children congregate, such as schools, transit hubs and libraries.

Once a store opens, anyone over the age of 21 will be able to buy marijuana. Stores will be limited to selling dried marijuana — or bud — edible concentrates, as well as in liquid form in drinks and oil. Bongs and pipes will be available, but not T-shirts or food.

Consumers will have to go to another store for munchies, said Brian Smith, communications director for the Liquor Control Board.

Customers won’t be allowed to light up or consume any of the products in stores.

“Retailers will receive it in a sealed package that they will sell — just like a bag of chips,” Smith said.

Stores can have sniff jars, which have a grate to allow customers to smell the product.

The effective tax rate on each purchase will be 44 per cent. Smith said the initial price at stores is expected to be a little higher than the street rate of between $10 and $15 per gram.

“It’s not a mature market,” Smith said. “Prices will be higher. We think as more and more producers come on line, it will mature the market and drive down the price.”

Although retail outlets haven’t yet opened in Washington state, marijuana delivery services have already popped up in Seattle.

Winterlife Cooperative Cannabis Delivery Service has a phone number, a Twitter account and a website with details about the products.

“This fragrant sativa will immediately make an impression with its cerebral high,” the Daily Menu said Tuesday about Hamster, one of the premium varieties that sells for $100 for a quarter-ounce, or seven grams. One of the cheapest was Tasmanian Devil at $60 a quarter.

The website specifies cash only. Winterlife requires that customers have to prove they are 21 years of age and sign an agreement before purchasing.

Michaud, from the Seattle Police Department, said Winterlife has found a way around the law by being a medical marijuana dispensary that started delivering to recreational users.

“Those deliveries are not necessarily the most safe or technically legal,” he said. “I would recommend being extraordinarily safe if you are (travelling) here.”

John Conroy, a B.C. lawyer, said he would not advise Canadian citizens going to Washington state to smoke marijuana to tell border officers about their plans. In the U.S., possessing and using marijuana is still a federal offence, even though it has been legalized in Washington.

He said while it is difficult to predict what border officials might do, any involvement with marijuana whatsoever can cause trouble. Admitting having used it or that you have been around it could be grounds for being disallowed entry to the U.S.

“You can say ‘I’m just going shopping’ or ‘Just for the day’ or ‘Visiting friends’ — so long as it’s all true,” he said. “If you’re caught in a lie, that’s a major problem. The worst thing you can do is not tell the truth to the officer. If he asks you point-blank, you have to be careful.”

Even though having up to an ounce of pot is now legal in Washington, it isn’t in Canada.

“You can’t bring it into Canada because it’s not legal in Canada,” he said. “It’s not legal in Canada to import or possess, or possess for the purpose of trafficking.”

If you cross the border and you smell of marijuana but don’t have any in your possession, the officers can still make your life difficult.

“If you smell of marijuana and you’re at the Canadian border, they can’t deny you entry, but they might arrest you and search you based on smell,” Conroy said.

He said the Washington state change probably won’t have much of a direct effect in B.C. because there is already such a liberal attitude toward marijuana use and more than enough supply.

But he said the benefits of a regulated and reasonably taxed market will quickly become clear.

“People will see a huge reduction in crime rates, and I’ll have to become an income tax lawyer,” he said.

article continues below

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist


NOTE: To post a comment you must have an account with at least one of the following services: Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ You may then login using your account credentials for that service. If you do not already have an account you may register a new profile with Disqus by first clicking the "Post as" button and then the link: "Don't have one? Register a new profile".

The Times Colonist welcomes your opinions and comments. We do not allow personal attacks, offensive language or unsubstantiated allegations. We reserve the right to edit comments for length, style, legality and taste and reproduce them in print, electronic or otherwise. For further information, please contact the editor or publisher, or see our Terms and Conditions.

comments powered by Disqus

Find out what's happening in your community.

Most Popular