U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued a sentencing directive for federal prosecutors mandating they "pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" for cases. How will the new federal sentencing directives and return of mandatory minimums impact our region?
This November, voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. If voters approve Referendum 71, adult residents could possess up to two ounces of the drug, and grow as many as six plants at home. Kojo explores how Colorado and Washington state have fared since they legalized marijuana in 2012.
- Martin Austermuhle Producer / Reporter, WAMU.org
- Ben Markus Reporter, Colorado Public Radio
- Evan Bush Reporter, Seattle Times
- Adam Eidinger Chairman, D.C. Cannabis Campaign; Founder and Partner, Mintwood Media Collective; Co-founder Capitol Hemp
Take Our Poll
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. There's been a profound shift in attitudes towards marijuana. More than a dozen states, including D.C., have decriminalized the drug. An even larger number allow medical marijuana use. And this November, District voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana in D.C.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITwo other states, Colorado and Washington, took that step back in 2012. And it might be instructive to look at what's going on in those two states where recreational pot stores are open. So joining us to discuss this is Martin Austermuhle. He is a WAMU web producer and reporter. Martin, thank you for joining us in studio.
MR. MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios at Colorado Public Radio is Ben Markus. He's a reporter for Colorado Public Radio. Ben, thank you for joining us.
MR. BEN MARKUSThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Seattle, Wash. is Evan Bush. Evan Bush is the social media and marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. Evan Bush, thank you for joining us.
MR. EVAN BUSHThanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by going to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can also take a poll that you'll find there. We'd like to know what you think about legalizing marijuana. You can also join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. How do you feel about the prospect of legalized pot in D.C.? Or how will you vote in November, 800-433-8850?
NNAMDIThe results from our poll, on our website so far, asking whether or not you support legalizing marijuana in the District, the question, do you support it, 94 percent of listeners who took the poll today said, they would, with the rest saying, well, no. You can also weigh in at kojoshow.org. Martin Austermuhle, I'll start with you. Marijuana is not yet legal in D.C., but we took a step closer last week. Can you get us up to speed as to what's happening here?
AUSTERMUHLEYes, absolutely. So on August 6, the D.C. Board of Elections gave the go-ahead to a ballot initiative. And what this means is that, come November, D.C. residents are going to have a chance to vote on an initiative that's going to be on the ballot that would legalize the possession of marijuana. It would legalize possession of two ounces of marijuana and let adults over the age of 21 grow up to six plants in their homes.
NNAMDIAnd that would be in our November election. And, okay, we had a brief discussion before about why this is an initiative and not a referendum. Please explain.
AUSTERMUHLERight. So a referendum would be if the government does...
NNAMDIGo into the weeds.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. I will go into the weeds on electoral law. So referendum is when the government does something, and they want voter approval or voter input. So then they put it on the ballot. The voters vote, and so on and so forth. The ballot initiative is initiated by the residents themselves. In this case it was a group of activists called the DC Cannabis Campaign. They gathered the requisite amount of signatures. About 27,000 signatures is what they got. They needed 22,000 to get the measure on the ballot, and they succeeded.
NNAMDIA distinction with a difference. Legalizing marijuana in D.C. is potentially more consequential than in other places. Why is that?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, this is the nation's capital, and it would -- a lot of the marijuana advocates I speak to say that it would be just a huge message and a huge political image for the nation's capital to allow marijuana to be legal. It would send a message that, you know, if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere, especially if it goes well or especially if it happens and nothing really changes, that the world goes on as one would expect.
NNAMDIWith the addition of the fact that there are 600 or 535 legislators in this town from other states who tend to look fairly closely at what happens here.
AUSTERMUHLERight. And that's the other issue that, you know, our guests from Colorado and Washington can probably -- you know, they can sympathize with the fact that they don't have to deal with Congress though the way we do. Everything that happens in the District has to be approved by Congress at some level. So this ballot initiative, it'll -- even if it's voted on by 100 percent of District residents, Congress will still have a say. The same thing if the city decided to legalize the sale and -- the sale of marijuana outright. Again, Congress would have a say. And in the past, they've actually weighed in against marijuana in the District.
NNAMDIBen Markus, Colorado was the first to begin sales of recreational marijuana, starting Jan. 1 of this year. Can you talk about how that came about there and about how the rollout proceeded?
MARKUSSure. We can go all the way back, almost 12, 13 years ago. When medical marijuana was approved, it was very small. It was caregivers in their basements growing plants for a very small pool of patients. But around 2009, stores became ubiquitous. They just exploded across Denver, across the state. We have 500 medical stores. And some people see that as a normalizing of marijuana. People looked. The sky did not fall with all of these stores. And so it made voters maybe more apt to approve recreational marijuana.
MARKUSAnd so in 2012, the advocates for marijuana correctly assumed that Barack Obama would be getting out a lot of liberal voters who tend to support marijuana legalization and Amendment 64, which is our amendment, voter-approved, for recreational sales of marijuana approved overwhelmingly. Now, all of those 500 medical stores get the option of switching to recreational, doing both medical and recreational.
MARKUSAbout 120, 150 -- we're not entirely sure -- have switched so far. And is it working? Probably depends on who you ask. The government, the businesses believe that the rollout has been successful. They're tracking plants. There isn't diversion to children that we know of. Taxes are being collected in the tens of millions of dollars. But if you ask, like, parents and advocates against marijuana, they would say that this is just one big experiment in Colorado that does not have a conclusion yet.
NNAMDIBut the fact that there were already 500 medical marijuana stores in Colorado clearly, in some ways, facilitated the rollout, right?
MARKUSIndeed. It was 500 stores serving 116,000 registered patients in the state of Colorado. They were selling lots of marijuana. And it didn't seem that there were huge societal problems. There were various studies that looked at crime around dispensaries. It did not see an increase. In some places, they saw decreases. A lot of these dispensaries have to have advanced surveillance equipment surrounding the store, and so it even helps law enforcement in some ways.
MARKUSIt's clear that the medical system, bringing in the millions that it was, was taking money away from the black market. And I also think that there was a libertarian strain here in Colorado that was just tired of seeing government say that people -- responsible adults couldn't put this substance in their body if they wanted to. It wasn't hurting anybody else. So you kind of had this conservative movement jumping on board as well and approving marijuana here in Colorado.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're having a conversation about legalizing marijuana which will be on the ballot in the District of Columbia in November, and is already legal in both the states of Washington and Colorado. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What concerns do you have about recreational marijuana? Need to bring you up to date on some other news. On same-sex marriage in Virginia, Rachel DePompa of NBC 12 in Richmond is reporting that a court of appeals has denied a stay in Virginia's same-sex marriage case.
NNAMDIUnless Supreme Court acts, same-sex couples in Virginia could get marriage licenses as soon as August 18, which is less than a week away. And Pete Williams of NBC is reporting the same, saying that the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court is declining to delay the effect of the July ruling, striking down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. You'll hear more about that from WAMU 88.5 news. Getting back to the topic at hand, Evan Bush, Washington State did not have a medical marijuana system in place as did Colorado. But, on the other hand, it has been able to benefit from Colorado's example. Can you talk a little bit about how Washington proceeded?
BUSHSure. So Washington did have medical marijuana. It just didn't have a strictly regulated system like Colorado, so in -- when voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, that ballot initiative called for, you know, a strictly regulated system to be built. So whereas in Colorado, medical dispensaries were, you know, essentially converted to recreational shops with a medical aspect as well, Washington built something from the ground up.
BUSHAnd it's gone quite a bit slower as you can imagine than in Colorado. Right now, I think there are only 43 retail stores that have been licensed. Not all of them are open. And supply has been a big issue. You know, most stores aren't able to stay open and selling marijuana right now because there isn't enough in the legal recreational market.
NNAMDIThe initiative in Washington State, it's my understanding, was some 65 pages long, specifying where pot commerce could not occur, precise amounts of bud and brownies that adults could possess, earmarked taxes and set license fees. Are those complications in -- having an effect on the speed of the rollout?
BUSHI think the state has been rather cautious with its rollout. And, you know, it went through kind of the rulemaking process where the public was asked for input for several months and then actually came out with the rules several months later. So it is slowing the rollout. And, you know, I don't know that that's the state's chief worry. I think they're playing it cautious because they want the system to work, and they don't want the, you know, Feds to crack down essentially. So that's a big issue that they're concerned about.
NNAMDIBen Markus, where is marijuana grown in Colorado?
MARKUSWell, there are 500 medical stores in the state, 150 recreational. Most of those stores are in the city of Denver. Marijuana is not grown in big, you know, fields somewhere. It's all grown in warehouses primarily in Denver, hundreds of warehouses, which has meant that warehouse space is a much higher premium now. Whenever a warehouse comes on sale in Denver, it goes for a pretty penny, given how lucrative this industry is. The law requires that marijuana has to be grown in an enclosed, locked space, whether that's in your basement or in a greenhouse or in a warehouse.
MARKUSSome growers are starting to experiment with greenhouses to get that natural sunlight. Denver and Colorado have, you know, has more than 300 days of sunlight. And clearly that's better than a ton of artificial lamps sucking up a lot of power. The power bills at these grow operations are significant. And because there's no banking, they have to pay that electric bill in cash, which can be a dangerous prospect when you're putting tens of thousands of dollars in cash around the city.
NNAMDIAnd this has had a favorable effect on renters all over the city of Denver?
MARKUSFor commercial real estate, yes.
MARKUSI mean, you think about -- in the city of Denver, where there are 200 medical stores, 86, almost 90, recreational stores, that is a lot of retail space that it's sucked up. You know, that creates a tightness in the market all across the state because these retail stores want good spots just like Jamba Juice or Starbucks does. They want something that has good foot traffic, something that has parking, and so you're seeing a lot of real estate get eaten up and prices going up all across the board, whether it be warehouse or retail space.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, just to note, if legalization does pass in November, the District will not at this point be seeing warehouses filled with marijuana plants.
AUSTERMUHLENo. I mean, we do have warehouses that produce marijuana for the medical marijuana program, but there's only three of them. They're extremely small. It's a very tightly controlled system. But unlike both Colorado and Washington, if, in November, our legalization initiative passes, I mean, the best I could say it's legalization-like 'cause it just legalizes possession. It doesn't actually legalize sales, so it's not, like, these dispensaries and cultivation centers can suddenly turn into commercial operations and start selling marijuana to everyday Joes and Johns that come in off the street.
NNAMDIOn to the phones. Here is Lorraine in Washington, D.C. Lorraine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LORRAINEYes. I had to use a pseudonym because I really don't want to be identified. But one day my granddaughter stepped outside -- we live in a townhouse on Capitol Hill. And she said, Nana, what is that smell?
LORRAINESo I stepped out after her and I thought, oh, this is marijuana. The next-door neighbor, who lived in the basement unit of that townhouse, was smoking pot. The door wasn't open. He was smoking so much pot that it smelt. I don't want to get a contact high. I was in the college in the '60s and I never tried anything. So maybe I sound self-righteous about it, maybe I sound wrong, but tell me where do we go, as a society, when we need to get high?
LORRAINEI just don't understand it. And I am so against -- if I can work against the initiative in the fall, I will do it. Because I'm totally against legalizing. I'm not for throwing people in jail and, you know, burying them under the jail because they use marijuana, but I don't want to smell it. I simply don't want to get a contact high. And I'm not by myself on that.
NNAMDIAnd just to be clear, Martin Austermuhle, in the District of Columbia this will only be -- use of marijuana will only be permitted in the home. Is that correct?
AUSTERMUHLERight. Exactly. So currently marijuana possession is decriminalized. You just get a $25 ticket if it's anything less than an ounce. Under this initiative it'd be two ounces, you wouldn't get any tickets whatsoever. But under neither scheme would they allow use, certainly not publicly. In the home, of course, it's much more difficult. I mean there are things landlords can do to stop people from smoking marijuana indoors. And they can certainly evict people if they have provisions in their lease about illegal drug use. But, again, it's much tougher to control.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation on the legalization of marijuana, a proposal currently on the ballot, or will be on the ballot on the District of Columbia come this November. If you'd like to join the conversation give us a call, 800-433-8850. What restrictions do you think should be included if pot is legalized here? Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there and offer your opinion on whether you think marijuana should be legalized. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about marijuana legalization, proposed in the District of Columbia, already in existence in the state of Colorado and Washington. We're talking with Martin Austermuhle, WAMU web producer and reporter. Evan Bush is the social media and marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. Ben Markus is a reporter for Colorado Public Radio. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Adam Eidinger who is chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign and the co-founder Capitol Hemp.
NNAMDIIn the meantime, you can go to our website where you can see a poll there, where you can tell us what you think about legalizing marijuana. Our website, of course, is kojoshow.org. You can also join the conversation there. Ben Markus, what are the rules around transporting pot that one has bought legally in Colorado, across state lines? And how is the airport responding?
MARKUSI think it's pretty simple. You cannot bring marijuana across state lines at all. And given the kind of Draconian laws, at least relative to Colorado, in the surrounding states, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, you probably are best not to do that. And when I talked to people who come here from Kansas or Wyoming, they seem to understand that. They're -- at least they're telling me that, "Look, we're definitely not going to bring this small amount of marijuana back across state line because we know that we can get in trouble.
MARKUS"We know that the cops are probably looking out for us, coming across the Colorado border." And so I think that there is a great deal of caution there. At the airport, we have not heard that the airport is actually doing anything extra to look for marijuana. But it's clear that the kinds of marijuana that are being produced now are much different than people realize. It's not just all the leafy green material. This is waxes, these are oils, these are edibles.
MARKUSThey can be, in some cases, impossible to know even if it's marijuana. And that does have law enforcement concerned. In fact, they just released a report yesterday about diversions out of Colorado of marijuana. And they say that the actual poundage they expect to decrease dramatically because people who are taking marijuana out of Colorado aren't just using the leafy green. They're taking out the more lucrative, the more high potent oils and waxes.
NNAMDIWe'll talk about edibles, oils and waxes in a little while, but the first stores opened in Colorado in January. And it's my understanding that sales of recreational marijuana set a new record in June. How big is the industry at this point?
MARKUSSo June sales were $24.7 million. And now we have six months of sales and tax data, $115 million for the first half of the year, just in sales for recreational marijuana. That translates to about $20 million in taxes and fees that go to the state and local governments. If you take medical marijuana and recreational together, the market is $308 million for the first half of the year, and about $30 million in taxes to state and local government.
MARKUSSo it is significant, but it is falling short of the projections the state legislature and the governor's office had for it -- recreational anyway. Because people aren't leaving the medical market. The thought was that as soon as recreational stores opened, people would throw away their medical red cards and they would go into the recreational system. But that's not happening because the tax rate on recreational marijuana is so much more significant and there are also supply issues. And so the price is about double what you would pay in the medical market.
MARKUSAnd so people seem to be holding onto that medical card.
NNAMDIYou may have answered the question that Lori, in Germantown, Md., has, but let's see. Lori, does that answer your question?
LORIWell, actually I did want to know what the street costs would have been before it was legal.
LORILike for -- per ounce.
NNAMDIWhat the street cost would have been before it was legal, Ben…
LORIOr what it was, yeah.
NNAMDIBen Markus, do you know?
MARKUSI know that people have looked at that, but I don't know the number off the top of my head. People in Colorado who were in the medical system were paying about $30 for a quarter ounce -- and eighth an ounce, excuse me, of marijuana. $30 for an eighth an ounce was believed to be pretty much the lowest price you could find anywhere. And why was that? It was because there 200 medical stores, just in the city of Denver alone. That's as many medical marijuana stores as there were liquor stores. And so there was an intense price competition that was driving prices down.
LORIWell, you know what, though, I mean, are there that many sick people there? I mean, I know the question has been raised about doctors that are, you know, all too willing to even cross the state line, you know, to…
MARKUSThat's a good question. The vast majority of people who have medical registry cards in Colorado report that they get them for chronic pain, which I imagine is difficult to disprove. There are clearly people who do benefit from the medical side of it who have symptoms related to AIDS and cancer that are alleviated by marijuana. But I think everyone, even the advocates of medical marijuana admit that many people were getting fake red cards or were faking ailments to get red cards to get into the system.
MARKUSRed cards is what we call the medical marijuana license that you can get -- clearly. And so -- but we haven't seen the medical go down and that seems to be more a function of price than sickness in Colorado.
NNAMDILori, thank you very much for you call. Evan, Washington state has had legal sales since July. What are you seeing in terms of availability and numbers of retail stores?
BUSHYeah, so we have about 43 retail stores that are licensed. I think earlier this month only about 18 of them had opened -- or -- and were selling pot. And so only, you know, only fraction of the overall market, which is expected to be about 334 stores, is working right now. Sales in the first month of Washington's system were about $3.8 million. And that will yield about a million in tax revenue to the state. I think that's about half of what Colorado had in its first month. But, again, Washington's doing things quite a bit differently and building something from the ground up.
NNAMDII'm interested in -- you heard one of our callers say that she would be working against the initiative. I'm interested in hearing about the pushback where it's already legal, that you're seeing in Washington. Tell us about the town of Fife and what's going on there, as well as in some other places.
BUSHSure. So Fife is one of a handful of municipalities that has banned pot businesses, you know, either through zoning laws or other means. And the -- one proprietor is suing the city, so it would be operate in Fife. And the state attorney general and the ACLU are planning to intervene in the case and argue against federal preemption. And basically what that means is the city of Fife says that it will argue in this case that because federal law bans marijuana, that, you know, Fife can also ban marijuana.
BUSHSo that'll be a big issue over the next few months. And a lot of people see that going to the Supreme Court. What'll be most interesting, I think, is how the ACLU, who basically wrote the law, the woman will be arguing that case, I think, you know, wrote I502, which legalized Washington's, you know, marijuana system, and the state attorney general -- how they work together and handle that.
BUSHHe believes -- and he wrote a brief on basically his thoughts on whether municipalities could ban marijuana businesses. And he says that he believes that they can. It's not written in the initiative clearly that they are not able to. Whereas, the ACLU disagrees with that. So that's a separate issue of a state preemption. So…
NNAMDIRather than simply following what the federal government says. Ben Markus, has Colorado seen this kind of pushback at either the city or county level?
MARKUSIt certainly has. Now, the voter-approved amendment that was passed two years ago, does give cities and counties the explicit right to ban recreational sales in their city. You can't ban marijuana possession, but you can ban, you know, the retail storefronts that have become so widespread in places like Denver and Boulder. And in Colorado Springs, which is Colorado's second largest city, they have banned recreational marijuana. The city council voted against that.
MARKUSAnd that's significant, not only because it's the second largest city in the state, but because it had the second-largest population of medical marijuana dispensaries, 70-some odd medical dispensaries that can -- now cannot switch to recreational sales, which means they're left stuck in this smaller 116,000 person medical-licensed market. And they argue that's, you know, hurting the business bottom line, as people from Colorado Springs go elsewhere.
MARKUSThis is about an hour from Denver. So it's not likely a lot of Colorado Springs people are driving all the way to Denver to get their marijuana. They're probably driving down to Pueblo and other places. So it's been a big boon to the places around Colorado Springs. But it's clear that it is allowed and so you won't see a lot of recreational marijuana stores on the Western Slope, Grand Junction, near the Utah border. You won't see any on the Eastern Plains, which is much more conservative than the rest of the state.
MARKUSAnd so where you see it is where cities are friendly to marijuana. That's Colorado -- that's Denver, Boulder, the Denver metro area, Pueblo, places like that.
NNAMDIBen Markus is a reporter for Colorado Public Radio. He joins us from studios at Colorado Public Radio. Evan Bush is the social media and marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. He joins us by phone from Seattle, Wash. Martin Austermuhle joins us in studio. He is WAMU 88.5 web producer and reporter.
NNAMDIMartin, we got an email from Jay, who asks, "If marijuana is legalized in D.C. will it be subject to the same restrictions as smoking cigarettes? Can you be arrested for DUI related to marijuana?"
AUSTERMUHLESo my understanding is that yes, there -- if -- at this point police have been instructed to look out for these sorts of things. If they find someone who's driving a car erratically, they can stop them. If there's an assumption at that point that they might be under the influence of drugs, they can be tested for that. So yes, there is the presumption that if you're driving a car while high, you will get in trouble, just as you would if you were driving a car while drunk.
NNAMDIOn to Jessica, in Washington, D.C. Jessica, your turn.
JESSICAHi. I'm curious about what kinds of dynamics might be perpetuated as this industry emerges and people are starting to benefit from the privileges and from the money that can be, you know, gains in running a business and selling this. You know, who has access to that? Who has this…
NNAMDIWho has access to what?
JESSICATo, like, if I wanted to open a business in my state where it's legal, but the federal government, you know, restricts it and let's say I can't get a bank loan to run my business. It seems to me that the only people that, you know, could do something like that would be people who are already rich, who already had cash. So instead of creating opportunities and new businesses and entrepreneurship, it seems like it might be perpetuating gaps between, you know, the haves and have nots.
JESSICAAnd I'm wondering what other kinds of sort of systemic vices or oppressions maybe opening up and perpetuating as this industry emerges, because of some of the conflict between state decisions and federal decisions.
NNAMDIWell, the broad issue of who can afford to get into business goes beyond marijuana. But, Ben Markus, we did have a discussion here earlier among our producers about the issue of big marijuana. Some people fear that big corporations are going to come in very soon and this is going to be monopolized by big business. Any signs of that as yet in Colorado?
MARKUSNo. And I think that part of the reason that that's been restricted is because the -- Colorado is restricting outside money flowing into these businesses. You have to be a Colorado resident if you're a controlling interest in one of these dispensaries. In the past, if you wanted to start a medical store, you had to own a retail storefront and you had to grow all of your own marijuana. So it restricted greatly how big and how many people could get into this. Growing marijuana is not a very simple thing to do on an industrial scale, when you're growing many different strains that do many different things.
MARKUSIt requires people who that kind of skill in growing pot. Now you talk about restrictions for people getting into marijuana, in Colorado you can't be a felon getting into the legal marijuana system here in the state. And so a lot of people have said, "Well, look, you lose a lot of the people who know how to grow marijuana when you restrict people who have felony records." It's clear that many of the people who are growing marijuana here in Colorado were criminals at one time.
MARKUSI had one guy tell me that he used a drug dealer and now he's a job creator. Now, you have -- given that you have to build a warehouse and a storefront and you have to know all these things and it's advanced botany, it does require a lot of money. And you don't have access to banks because it's a business that's still against federal law. So you're going to need some kind of private financing. Some people say that you need at least more than million dollars to start a business here in Colorado.
MARKUSAnd so I think the barriers to entry for marijuana are probably steeper than they would if you wanted to franchise a McDonalds or something like that. But you're right, I think that the larger issue of obtaining capital to start a business is not unique to marijuana.
NNAMDIEvan, you are new to this beat, but you are the marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. One is intrigued by the idea of a reporter dedicated to covering marijuana. But you say there could be even more resources devoted to coverage.
BUSHYeah, I mean, I think right now there's so many stories, you know, with kind of the birth of a legal recreational system. And the conversion of the black market to, you know, to a legal system. I think there's a wealth of, you know, of topics to cover and economic, you know, criminal justice angles, you know, the botany part of things is fascinating, the science and health concerns, too. You know, this issue, I think has its tentacles in really everything. So we've had a lot of people helping out on the beat.
NNAMDIYou've got about five reporters helping out so far, right?
BUSHWe have several, yeah. And, you know, kind of our main reporter is off learning some -- part of the science of marijuana. He's at MIT for about nine months. So he'll come back with a lot of good information on, you know, how the science of marijuana is changing and what we can glean from that.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, for reasons that I cannot figure out, I am not invited to the daily news department meetings here at WAMU 88.5. So I don't know if we are considering a marijuana reporter. Are we?
AUSTERMUHLENot that I've heard of, but I can put in the pitch right now if the bosses are listening, which I hope they are. I'm available if you want to, you know, if we want to go in that direction, I'll take the -- I'll take up the tough task.
NNAMDIMeymo Lyons, I hope you're listening. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can be a part of a poll offering your opinion about legalizing marijuana. You can also shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. What concerns do you have about recreational marijuana, 800-433-8850? Ben, what effect has legalization had and have any of the more dire predictions come to pass?
MARKUSI think people would tell you that it's just simply too soon to know that. There was a survey released recently of middle and high school students. And it's -- they reported smoking less marijuana than they did two years ago. That doesn't cover 2014 when the retail stores, recreational retail stores, opened. So they're saying that there just isn't enough data. We're not seeing many more highway fatal crashes after legalization. We're not seeing more crime. But when you only have six months of data to look at, most researchers will tell you that that's simply too soon.
NNAMDIOn to Brenda, in Vienna, Va. Brenda, your turn.
BRENDAYeah. I was calling in response to the pseudo name, Elaine's (sic) , confirmed with contact fumes for marijuana. I'm a retired JAG and basically termed as a military prosecutor in numerous marijuana urinalysis cases and that defense is a no-start. Basically, you would have to be in a very tiny closet with all of the gaps in the doors filled and someone would have to smoke a ridiculously, almost physically impossible number of marijuana cigarettes for the person in the closet with them to even register as having ingested marijuana.
NNAMDIWell, I'd suspect that the caller who identified herself as Loraine has an objection to the smell of it. But she also feels that she could get a contact high. So whether or not she can be tested as having ingested, her tolerance level might not be the same as some others. What would you say to that, Brenda?
BRENDAWell, seeing as how it doesn't even register as ingested, I don't see how you can actually even get a contact high because your body is not absorbing enough to even register for the prosecutorial levels that we had in the military.
NNAMDIWell, I suspect that Loraine feels that -- the same way that a lot of people feel about cigarette smoke, they just don't want to be around it at all. They don't want to smell it. They don't care what effect it has on them. But we'll have to see. Brenda, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation joined by Adam Eidinger, chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign.
NNAMDIBut you can still call us, 800-433-8850. How do you feel about the prospect of legalized marijuana in Washington, D.C.? Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing marijuana legalization with Martin Austermuhle, WAMU 88.5 Web reporter and producer, Ben Markus is a reporter for Colorado Public Radio, Evan Bush is the social media and marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. Ben Markus, in Colorado, edibles have been a concern. First, can you explain what an edible is? And what kind of challenge edibles have post for state officials?
MARKUSSure. So edibles are pretty much anything you can eat, anything you can imagine that has marijuana infused into it or sprayed onto it. I think that that's the biggest shock for a lot of people who come in from out of state. They walk into a marijuana dispensary and it's not just the pot that maybe they remember as a kid or, you know, bought on the street at some point. This is, you know, a dizzying array of products from oils to waxes to edibles of all types.
MARKUSFrom caramel corn to gummy bears to chocolate bars. And I think that in the medical realm -- there wasn't a lot of debate when they were talking about recreational marijuana rules and laws about, you know, should we be concerned about the edible market. There was almost zero concern about edibles. You know, they put a cap on the amount of marijuana that could be put into each edible and then they moved on.
MARKUSBut I don't think they realized that people weren't ready for this. And so, some people have come in from out of state, some people who are new to the market even here in Colorado have overdone it and bad things have happened. One student from Wyoming ate an entire cookie, which is more than -- I believe it's six doses, some of these are up to 10 doses of marijuana. He ate it all at once, became extremely paranoid and distraught and then fell off of a balcony of a hotel and died.
BUSHAnd this was the first linked death to marijuana here in Colorado and it caused a shudder through the industry and through the state. And they turned around and created and tightened the edible marijuana rules. So there's going to be much more information handed out to people when they come to buy edibles, start slow, start low, don't overdo it. It's going to be an extremely bad experience if you do.
MARKUSMost people, obviously, 99.9 percent don't die from it, but many people have bad experiences when they consume too much marijuana. When you eat it, the problem is, is that you put a bunch in your stomach and you don't feel the effect for half an hour, an hour, sometimes even two hours. When you smoke it, you can feel the effect so much more -- it's so much more sudden getting to the brain.
MARKUSAnd so, you're able to kind of adjust. You can kind of feel that you're smoking too much and you should stop. With edibles, you can put a lot in your stomach and it just has to work its way out. It's a very bad experience. It's something the state has had to kind of come in after the fact to deal with.
NNAMDIEvan Bush, Maureen Dowd famously wrote about her first encounter with an edible. Washington state has been watching Colorado and has moved to addressed this dosing issue. Can you talk about that?
BUSHSure. So in Washington, shortly after the Maureen Dowd column and, you know, more information on Colorado's troubles with edibles, the Liquor Control Board, which regulates marijuana, put out some emergency rules to address the edibles market. And I think Washington is a little bit more prepared in the language of the rules and the initiative itself, you know, in dealing with edibles.
BUSHBut they went even further. So everything has to be shelf stable, so no ice cream or anything that has to be cooled or heated. No dairy products, things like that. And, you know, they also -- all edibles also have to have, you know, single, breakable doses. So, you know, if it's a candy bar, it has to be separated into, you know, eight pieces if it's right doses. And, you know, the labeling and packaging was a big deal to the Liquor Control Board as well.
BUSHThey don't want this stuff to appeal to children. So, you know, gummy bears have been a popular edible treat, you know, for a long time. And those won't be on Washington's, you know, recreational marijuana shelves because they might appeal to children. You know, a kid could see a gummy bear that a parent has left unattended to and eat that and have, you know, obviously a terrible experience. We don't, you know, Washington does not want kids, you know, near marijuana and that's another thing that they put a premium on regulating.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, presumably Washington, D.C. will be watching both Colorado and Washington state on that.
AUSTERMUHLEIndeed. We don't have any edibles here just yet. They're legal under the medical marijuana program, but no one has gotten into growing -- into producing them yet, mostly because they haven't been able to grow enough marijuana to actually shift over into edibles, which are apparently more intensive when it comes to marijuana. But recently, Mayor Gray signed a bill, which increases the amount of plants that a cultivation center can grow from 95 to 500.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd one of the reasons for that -- well, there's two reasons. So they could grow more strains and that could be used for more conditions and also so they could use more of that marijuana for edibles, which, you know, again, they claim that in certain cases, for certain conditions, edibles are better. But we don't have an edibles industry as of yet. And certainly not commercial.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone now is Adam Eidinger. He is chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign and co-founder of Capitol Hemp. Adam, thank you for joining us.
MR. ADAM EIDINGERThanks for having me on.
NNAMDIAdam, we've been about concerns around edibles. What are your thoughts on that?
EIDINGEROh, I definitely think there needs to be regulations on dosage and anything that's going to be introduced in a retail setting, whether it's a medical dispensary or for just personal use, adult use, I think you need to have warnings. You need to be very clear. I think vaporization is another method of delivery that hasn't been discussed too much. But people are using these oils and waxes primarily to vaporize.
EIDINGERAnd there is diversion. It is probably the most lucrative thing to divert out in the state and really what I like to talk about is how D.C., when we pass legalization of marijuana here, just on a sort of a rights basis, it's going to force the federal government to finally reschedule marijuana as schedule one. It is not a dangerous drug. It is something that adults can use responsibly. It is tragic that someone overdosed on and had an accident, falling off of a building while under the influence of edibles.
EIDINGERYet I don't think that should be an argument for keeping people locked for marijuana and occasionally will be used as one. While it is tragic, I think it's also tragic that we have people overdosing on alcohol quite regularly in this city and we've issued tens of thousands of liquor licenses. So I just think we need to be, you know, careful when we point out, you know, there has been some negatives.
EIDINGEROne last thing I want to comment on about edibles is, yes, they are -- made possible in the sort of masses because of legalization. But currently in the illicit marijuana market, people buy marijuana and make edibles at home all the time. And so many people are familiar with what they're doing and it's a normal thing because they don't want to smoke.
NNAMDIYou probably thought I didn't notice when you snuck in when we legalize marijuana as opposed to if we legalize marijuana. But I know that your position is that it will pass. So let's have you talk with Jack in McLean, Va. Jack, you're on the air, go ahead please.
JACKHey, Kojo. The question I have is kind of like a next level thing. As I told your producer, I'm okay with the context of decriminalizing marijuana simply because I don't think you need to be clogging the court system with a lot of these folks. But at the same time, I'm not also somebody who's a big fan of putting more chemicals in our body of any kind. So -- but the other piece is, I mean, back in my day, you grew your own.
JACKAnd my question here is, why do I want to be going to a business when I can go do this on my own? And I'm long out of the loop on, you know, what's the best...
NNAMDIWell, in the District of Columbia, you will not be going to a business. Is that right, Adam?
EIDINGERThat's right. Because of D.C.'s initiative rules, we can only put the question of home cultivation on the ballot and personal possession. We can't actually say that we want to have stores that tax marijuana a particular.
NNAMDIOn therefore -- and, Jack, thank you very much for your call. On now to Maria in Washington, D.C. Maria, your turn.
MARIAHi, I just wanted to say I am not for this in D.C. I'm a recent MPH graduate and we don't...
NNAMDIMPH being a masters in public health?
MARIAYes, sorry. We don't know enough about the science of addiction and I don't think it's, you know, the criminal justice piece, especially for juveniles is -- the potential is enormous. And money has not...
NNAMDIWhat do you mean by the criminal justice piece being enormous?
JACKI think because we don't know enough about the addiction aspect and the entryway of -- people, once they become addicted to one substance tend to stack their drugs and so it does lend itself to that. And...
NNAMDIWell, Adam Eidinger, does it lend itself to addiction and, therefore, maybe addiction to harder drugs?
EIDINGERI like to know what research you're referring to that shows this because I don't believe it exists. And the other thing I like to say is that there's a tremendous amount of research that shows that marijuana is not physically addictive the way that many other legal substances are. And all you have to do is look at emergency room overdoses, deaths related to marijuana compared to other substance both legal and illegal.
EIDINGERAnd it is the safest one on the list. We have more deaths from aspirin and Tylenol, okay? And those are legal, over-the-counter drugs that any adult can buy. So this idea that there's going to be this wave of addiction, people are already using marijuana, they're just hiding and lying to their employers. They're lying to the police. We need an open society where this type is adult use is not seen as a crime at all and you are held accountable for your actions under the influence.
NNAMDIBen Markus, was the issue of addiction one that was considered by officials and authorities in Colorado?
MARKUSIt was. And I think because there were some public health experts on the panel. There was concern that there needs to be some kind of educational campaign that goes along with this rollout of marijuana. And this week, the first youth ads came out and it was don't be a lab rat is the tagline because a lot of the research is unsettled as to what the long-term effects of marijuana are on kids, on adults.
MARKUSAnd in particular, they looked at a Duke study. And this Duke study found that in teenagers and adolescents that the IQ of these adolescents goes down, people who smoke lots of marijuana. That study is disputed. But the point of the ad campaign is to say that what if in years from now they find out that that study actually was right. Do you want to be a lab rat? And the state has legalized this for people aged 21 and over.
MARKUSThe federal government has been very clear to Colorado and Washington that one of the reasons it has stayed out so far of this market is because the states have pledged to keep this drug out of the hands of kids. That is the true concern. Young brains are developing, we just simply don't know what a lot of marijuana use on those young brains would be.
NNAMDIOn to Andrew in Washington, D.C. Andrew, you're on the air, go ahead please.
ANDREWThanks, Kojo. Always on point as usual. Love your topics. Just wanted to point out that a couple of months ago Washington Post reported that the Sinaloa cartel, which was arguably the largest supplier of illicit marijuana to the United States completely stopped planting marijuana as of about six months ago down in Mexico because -- largely because of the Colorado and Washington amendments that allowed it.
ANDREWI'm wondering, Washington, D.C. may have a different supply chain than Mexico for illicit marijuana, maybe overseas through Afghanistan and some of the larger markets there. I'm wondering if we're going to see similar drops in illicit marijuana import from overseas or at least do we project there to be illicit drops?
NNAMDIAdam Eidinger, what do you say?
EIDINGERYes, we would see demand reduction for the illicit market if you allow people a legal way to have access to marijuana. I completely agree with your logic. And I think most of the inexpensive marijuana that's sold on the streets in D.C. comes from Mexico. It comes right across the border and they drive it right up the coast. And that's -- there have been drug busts for years of people trying to bring Mexican marijuana to D.C.
EIDINGERThere's also a lot of marijuana in D.C. that comes down from Canada and comes down from the northeast where, you know, it's grown illegally too, but it's easier to get away with it. So this is a billion dollar market just in the D.C. area, counting Maryland and Virginia, too. And I think the idea that it's untaxed and that it's all handed over to the gang...
NNAMDIRunning out of time. We have about 10 seconds, Adam.
EIDINGERWell, we just don't want gangs and criminals controlling this plant anymore. It's time to make it legal.
NNAMDIAdam Eidinger is chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign and co-founder of Capitol Hemp. Evan Bush is the social media and marijuana reporter for the Seattle Times. Ben Markus is a reporter for Colorado Public Radio. And Martin Austermuhle is a WAMU Web producer and reporter. Martin Austermuhle, this is a predominantly Democratic city. Have you seen any crossover here in terms of support for legal pot in 10 seconds or less?
AUSTERMUHLEPolling has found that about 60 percent of residents have said they'd be in favor of legalization, but we'll see come election day.
NNAMDIAnd we'll see the results of the poll. You can go to find our poll at our website, kojoshow.org. And thank you all for joining us and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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