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Seattle’s First Pot Shop Poised To Open Tuesday

By Andy Mannix, The Seattle Times

A week before the grand opening of Cannabis City, James Lathrop paces by the conspicuously bare glass display cases in his small shop, tucked away just south of downtown Seattle.

Barring some 11th-hour business catastrophe, 10 pounds of marijuana will line these shelves Tuesday, a quantity Lathrop expects will sell out that day at $15 to $20 per gram. But until he officially receives his retail license from the state Monday, it’s only glass paraphernalia and small label plates that read “Fine Jewelry,” remnants from when the cases lived in a Sears department store.

One of the many nice things about the burgeoning legal marijuana business, Lathrop jokes, is he can be forthright about the intended use of these handcrafted glass pipes, some of which stand several feet high.

“These are not tobacco pipes,” he says, laughing. “We should get a sign that says that.”

On Tuesday, Lathrop plans to open the doors to Cannabis City and become the first marijuana retailer in Seattle. For Lathrop and other pioneers of Washington’s newly legalized pot industry, cutting the ribbon marks the culmination of months of grueling preparation. Until last week, he and his business manager, Amber McGowan, worked as many as 16 hours a day to prepare the business for its first customers, as well as a two-hour state inspection, which they passed last week, he said.

“We were still doing construction the day of our inspection,” he said. “This window got replaced an hour before he got here.”

Meanwhile, Cannabis City’s supplier, Nine Point Growth Industries in Bremerton, is hustling to get 30 pounds of marijuana ready to go out the door for Lathrop and several other retailers around the state also expecting to open next week.

Customers are allowed under the law to buy up to an ounce at a time. But because the demand is likely to be so high the first day, Nine Point has been working around the clock since Monday measuring all 30 pounds into 2-gram bags so more buyers will have a chance to partake in the historic day, said Greg Stewart, CEO of Nine Point.

“That is all that I had available,” he said. “I could literally sell as much as I had right now. If I had 10 times as much I’d be able to sell it.”

Road to Cannabis City

For Lathrop, being among the first to navigate Washington’s new marijuana laws was daunting from the beginning.

Before he could even be eligible for the licensing lottery, he had to secure a location. Marijuana retailers can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, recreation center, child-care center, public park, public transit center, library, or arcade.

And landlords at some properties that did work were hesitant to take him on as a tenant. Lathrop said about 10 people turned him down before he found the rundown, 620-square-foot space near Fourth Avenue South and South Lander Street, which he began renting in November.

Cannabis City has since hired 15 staff members, including security guards who will check IDs and manage the line when the shop first opens. Lathrop also installed 11 cameras — eight inside, three outside — and an advanced alarm system.

But simply getting the shop staffed and up to code wasn’t enough, Lathrop said. “We had to make it cool.”

There was no specific template for “cool,” and some of Lathrop’s ideas were subtle. The wood paneling on the wall and the floor planks, for example, are angled exactly 60 degrees. After adding the 360 degrees of a circle, he explained, that makes them 420 degrees.

This was so important to Lathrop that when the carpenter installed half of the floor at 45 degrees, Lathrop made him tear it up and start over, he said.

Finding a supplier that would be ready to ship for Cannabis City’s opening was no easy task. McGowan sent about 30 letters to suppliers before she found Nine Point, she said.

Lathrop can’t officially file the order with Nine Point until he’s received his license, which he’s told he will get via email Monday, but he doesn’t know exactly when. To comply with the state’s policy, Nine Point then has to quarantine the pot for 24 hours before shipping — a measure that will allow regulators to keep tabs on shipments as the industry continues to grow, said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board.

So if Lathrop’s license doesn’t come until Monday afternoon, Cannabis City won’t have pot for sale until Tuesday afternoon.

Lathrop said he plans to open his store at “high noon” and hopes the weed has arrived by then, though he said that could change Monday if the license comes in later.

Sales will be in cash, and there’s an ATM in the shop.

Per the state inspector’s orders, they have to obscure the glass display cases that will hold the marijuana. As part of the state’s policy, retailers can’t place marijuana in view of passers-by. Though the windows are already blurred, the inspector feared wandering eyes would still be able to catch a glimpse of the product from the sidewalk if the door was opened, Lathrop said.

But aside from a few small alterations and a little red tape, Cannabis City is ready.

“We just need the cannabis to get on the shelves,” McGowan said.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

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Time To Legalize Marijuana?

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Weekend Reader: ‘A New Leaf: The End Of Cannabis Prohibition’

Today Weekend Reader brings you A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, by award-winning investigative journalists Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian, whose work has also appeared in The New York Times and The Nation. Martin and Rashidian argue that American society is now at a turning point, heading toward increasing acceptance and inevitable legalization of cannabis across the country. The growing number of Americans using medical marijuana is on the rise in states that now legalize the practice. Colorado and Washington have led the way, passing recreational legalization laws and demonstrating the benefits of ending the prohibition of marijuana. A New Leaf is a collection of interviews with individuals from a broad spectrum of this debate: from activists and politicians to patients and growers.  

You can purchase the book here.

When voters in Washington and Colorado closed the curtain, considered their choices, and punched the ballot on Election Day 2012, why did most choose cannabis legalization?

Over the past two decades, more Americans have been exposed to cannabis than at any other time in recent history. According to The Path Forward, a report co-authored by Colorado representative Jared  Polis and Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer and released in February 2013, more than 106 million people now live where cannabis is legal for medical or general use. As of April 2013, according to Pew Research, 77 percent of Americans believe cannabis can legitimately be medicine and a landmark majority, 52 percent, support legalization for general use. Yet the federal government refuses to accept these broader societal shifts. Americans are, for the first time, truly weighing the harms of cannabis prohibition against the harms of cannabis. For example, prohibition has led to more than 8 million cannabis-related arrests in the last decade—of those, 88 percent were for mere possession.

One reason for the change in public opinion is the education Americans have received from over twenty years of access to medical cannabis. The more often people saw the cannabis plant on TV screens, in newspapers, and, sometimes, down the street, the more comfortable they grew with the notion of legalization. When he led the reefer madness crusade to banish cannabis in 1937, Harry J. Anslinger, first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, warned, “This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.”  But if cannabis now legally replaces or supplements conventional pharmaceuticals for an estimated 1 million Americans in twenty states and Washington, D.C., it’s increasingly clear that it must not be as dangerous as we were—and, in some cases, continue to be—told.

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More Americans feel comfortable coming out about their cannabis use, too. Forty-eight percent of adults eighteen or older admit they tried cannabis at some point in their lives. Popular culture has accurately reflected shifting views about the plant. Increased use and acceptance of cannabis for medical (and “medical”) reasons might be why even Meryl Streep and Steve Martin could light a joint, party with the kids, and feast on chocolate croissants in the movie It’s Complicated without controversy.

On top of that, numerous influential types have spoken in favor of reforming drug policy, including Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post; Deepak Chopra, the man who made millions by making people feel better holistically; and Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. All three sit on the honorary boards of the nation’s foremost drug policy reform organization, the Drug Policy Alliance. Year after year, cannabis continues to make the strangest bedfellows, uniting liberal Barney Frank and Tea Partier Ron Paul in Congress, for instance; they worked on two cannabis law reform bills and co-authored a letter to President Barack Obama to insist the federal government not intervene in states with cannabis laws.

The economic and social implications of cannabis legalization, both domestic and international, have also become more apparent in recent years. As Americans clawed their way out of a recession, more and more states passed medical cannabis laws and, slowly, more brick-and-mortar storefronts emerged. It soon became obvious that there is money to be made. When budgets started to feel the recession pinch, voters wanted to harness the economic power of cannabis to mitigate the impact. Colorado earned $5.4 million from medical cannabis sales taxes between 2011 and 2012; California estimates annual sales tax revenues between $58 million and $105 million. Now, with the passage of Initiative 502, voters in Washington have opened the door to over half a billion dollars in annual tax and fee revenue for their state, money that can be directed toward cannabis education, research, and dependence treatment, among other public health initiatives. Voters in Colorado know that, beginning in 2014, $40 million in tax dollars from general-use cannabis each year will be earmarked for schools.

At the same time, the financial costs to curb this momentum and fight the domestic drug war are staggering. The White House National Drug Control Budget for 2014 noted that $9.6 billion of its total $25.4 billion is allocated to domestic law enforcement. These resources are intended to stem the availability of drugs—but the money has not been wisely invested if nearly half of those law enforcement efforts result in the arrest of cannabis users, as has been the trend for years. Of the 1.53 million nonviolent nationwide drug arrests in 2011, 49.5 percent were for violations involving cannabis and an overwhelming 87 percent (or about 663,000) of those arrests were for minor charges involving possession. Typically, nine cannabis possessors are arrested for every one dealer. In the meantime, cannabis use and availability have increased; the money has been tossed into the wind.

Voters have also started to connect the American appetite for cannabis to conflict beyond our borders. The United States spends over $5 billion each year to fight the international drug war, with an emphasis on Latin America. Over the last decade, drug trafficking organizations in Mexico have become more violent, and an estimated sixty thousand people have been killed as the result of drug-related conflict. If passed nationally, cannabis legalization in the United States would remove—and these are conservative estimates—roughly 30 percent of the at least $7 billion total profits these organizations receive from the illegal sale of drugs across the border. (Estimates on total profits and the share of cannabis vary; this isn’t exactly an industry that files earnings reports.)

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Americans also increasingly recognize the social costs of the domestic drug war on our fellow citizens. These millions of arrests, and the subsequent criminal record, often lead to loss of income, housing, child custody, and student financial aid. When voters in Colorado and Washington pulled the yes lever, they also spoke out against a system of entrenched racial inequity that is manifested and propagated through cannabis law enforcement. Across the country, blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis possession, even though they use cannabis at comparable rates. Arrest statistics vary from city to city, but New York City provides an illuminating example because its law enforcement tactics have earned national attention and contribute to the state’s having the highest number of cannabis possession arrests in the country. Between 2002 and 2013, the New York Police Department made 5 million stop-and-frisks, or unannounced police pat-downs, on the street with the stated intent of finding guns. Of all of those stopped, 86 percent were black or Latino—and 88 percent were innocent. If police were looking for guns, they didn’t find many: fewer than two-tenths of a percent (0.2 percent) of all stops resulted in guns found. Due to these tactics, however, there has been an increase in cannabis possession arrests. In 2011, at the peak of stop-and-frisks in New York City, arrests for cannabis possession also peaked at 50,484.

Forty years and $1 trillion later, only 4 percent of Americans support the war on drugs.

With each new piece of information about potential tax revenue, skyrocketing arrests, and the racist nature of cannabis law enforcement, it was as if voters saw the color panels begin to match on the side of a Rubik’s Cube. When cannabis legalization made it to the ballots in Washington State and Colorado, voters in those states essentially decided whether they wanted to spend billions of dollars to arrest millions of men and women while sending a massive check to drug cartels during an American economic crisis—all over a nontoxic substance that is less harmful and addictive than alcohol. On that election night, more than 3 million voters in those two states definitively said enough is enough.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you can purchase the full book here.

Copyright © 2014 by Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian. This excerpt originally appeared in A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

Medical Marijuana Poised For Ad-War In Florida

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Medical marijuana is so popular in Florida that 78 percent of likely voters in Republican-controlled state Senate districts back the idea, according to a recent state GOP poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

The survey echoes two others last month that found medical marijuana support ranging from 64 percent to 70 percent — results consistent with every major Florida public poll released in the past year.

And the favorable political environment for a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment isn’t just limited to public opinion.

Well-funded organized opposition is lacking right now. And, in an ironic twist, the most high-profile opponent of medical marijuana — Gov. Rick Scott — could indirectly and unintentionally help the proposed amendment, strategists say.

To win re-election, Scott’s campaign is likely to trigger a mammoth $150 million TV ad war, which could reduce the supply of available commercial advertising time, drive up the price of commercials and therefore make it tougher for outgunned anti-drug crusaders to get out their message.

“In an environment such as that, message-penetration can be challenging for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money,” said Kyle Roberts, president of Virginia-based Smart Media Group, one of the nation’s premier political ad-buying firms.

The estimated $150 million that could be spent — $100 million from Scott and Republicans, $50 million from Democrat Charlie Crist — “can cause a lot of voter confusion when it comes to other issues on the ballot,” Roberts said.

Medical marijuana opponents have one major advantage, however: It takes 60 percent voter approval — a high bar — to pass a constitutional amendment in Florida. That means just a minority of voters can defeat the proposal at the Nov. 4 polls.

Opponents say the amendment would lead to pot legalization. Proponents, pointing to the amendment’s text, say it legalizes medical marijuana for those who have “debilitating” ailments as determined by a physician.

So far, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana, most for medical reasons.

Florida attitudes have been changing along with the nation’s. In November, a Quinnipiac University survey found that 48 percent of registered voters favored legalization for adults and 46 percent were opposed.

The Republican state Senate district poll, conducted last month by the Tarrance Group, found that 47 percent of likely voters favored outright legalization and 48 percent opposed legalization. And voters strongly backed lighter prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

A major difference between the two polls: The Tarrance poll was in selected Republican-held state Senate districts where voters are more conservative; the Quinnipiac survey was a statewide survey that polled all types of voters.

Pollsters and pundits are at pains to say what’s causing the shift in attitudes, but they note that it’s happening with same-sex marriage, as well.

The Tarrance poll, for instance, showed that likely voters in the GOP Senate districts favored same-sex marriage by 54-39 percent — a cumulative 14 percentage-point shift since its last poll in April. And by 67-27 percent, voters said they supported giving homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to health care, emergency situations and property rights.

But the favorable sentiment concerning gay marriage is eclipsed by the change in perceptions over marijuana.

Despite the trends in favor of marijuana decriminalization in one form or other, some surveys show, the argument that medical marijuana leads to complete legalization can be a potent tool to defeat the proposed amendment.

But getting their message out will be expensive. It can cost a political candidate nearly $2 million a week to run enough statewide ads so that the average viewer sees them 10 times. For political committees, the cost of such a media buy can cost about double what it costs candidates, who get the lowest rates.

Also, because of the broad array of TV choices and channels, voters are tougher to reach and persuade nowadays, requiring ever-more sophisticated efforts to identify the right way and time to reach them.

Burning so much money in an ad campaign puts an emphasis on fundraising for political groups. And polls drive fundraising.

Add it all together — the lack of ad time, the higher costs and the popular polling _ and anti-drug crusaders know they face a tough campaign.

But they’re still going to try, said Lana Beck, spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs, the lead organizations opposed to the amendment along with law-enforcement agencies.

“We will be educating at the grass-roots level,” Beck said.

John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer funding and leading the effort through his group People United for Medical Marijuana, hopes the opposition stays that way.

“If this is a word-of-mouth campaign, a grass-roots effort, we win,” Morgan said.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin