The Green Rush is here. Potrepeneurs are aligning business plans, securing funding, and staking their claims with the Liquor Control Board. Hurry, the window to get in on the world's first commercial marijuana market closes soon.
News that the Evergreen State is playing chicken with the Controlled Substances Act and getting into the pot business is drawing prospectors to Seattle like the Klondike Gold Rush did in1896. However, unlike Facebook’s IPO, there is little worry about missing the mother lode—marijuana is joining an elite group of addictive commodities that benefit from legal protection. Pot dealers, if you follow 502’s rules, the WA Attorney General has your back.
Like gold prospectors before them, old pot growers from Northern California's "Green Triangle," and new MBAs alike, are buying supplies and staking their claim. This time, however, they are snatching up grow lights, surveillance cameras, fertilizer, and butane for hash oil extraction. Dreams abound of securing one of 334 retail licenses in one of Washington's fertile communities--each with rich deposits of new consumers.
Artifacts found on Seattle's Underground Tour remind us of the Yukon Gold Rush and how the City supplied the hopes of thousands on their way to Alaska's rivers. Now, once again, Seattle finds itself at ground zero of a boom heard worldwide. What lessons can history teach this time around?
In the Klondike, only a few found gold and the bulk of the money was made by corporate interests buying and selling claims while ignoring damage to individual lives and native communities. In Washington's commercial marijuana marketplace, mass media advertising will be allowed as it was for tobacco decades ago. There are no limits on the amount a retail pot shop can sell in a day, starting a supply chain for the rest of the country. The stage is again set for corporate "Big Marijuana" to swallow profits and avoid social responsibility.
Alcohol and tobacco warn us that legal marijuana will likely cost Washingtonians ten times more than it earns in taxes and fees. Hidden social expenses will include medical, enforcement of new DUI laws, workplace productivity, school under-performance, and drug treatment—all going to the taxpayer’s tab. Already, DUI-marijuana is up 50% for the first half of 2013 and one quarter of that number represents those under 21. Drug interdiction experts report cartels are not leaving as promised. Instead, they are adapting by moving grow operations indoors to produce higher potency pot to maintain their illicit market share.
Ruined lives will be hidden in the frenzy as they were during the rush for Alaska gold. How many kids need to die in car crashes after pot tourists take their first vape hit of butane hash oil and get behind the wheel of a rented SUV? Are we prepared to say when the experiment has failed?
History suggests we slow down and remove the green-tinted glasses. We need to start a comprehensive public education campaign before pot shops open, instead of waiting until proceeds trickle down to State coffers in late 2014. Funding is needed for additional law enforcement to adapt to new pot laws. Also, we should probably re-consider the wisdom of allowing giant, rainbow-swirl, THC-infused lollipops.
The commercial pot industry, like tobacco and alcohol before it, will likely be dedicated to increasing addiction-based sales resulting in increased harm to youth and the vulnerable. It took decades to push back on Joe Camel—a lesson that does not need repeating in the rush of 2013.