SEATTLE — A year into the nation’s experiment with legal, taxed marijuana sales, Washington and Colorado find themselves wrestling not with the federal interference many feared, but with competition from medical marijuana or even outright black market sales.
In Washington, the black market has exploded since voters legalized marijuana in 2012, with scores of legally dubious medical dispensaries opening and some pot delivery services brazenly advertising that they sell outside the legal system.
Licensed shops say taxes are so onerous that they can’t compete.
Colorado, which launched legal pot sales last New Year’s Day, is facing a lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma alleging that they’re being overrun with pot from the state.
And the number of patients on Colorado’s medical marijuana registry went up, not down, since 2012, meaning more marijuana users there can avoid paying the higher taxes that recreational pot carries.
Officials in both states say they must do more to drive customers into the recreational stores. They’re looking at reining in their medical systems and fixing the big tax differential between medical and recreational weed without harming patients.
Weed sales have so far brought in some revenue, though less than officials might have hoped.
Colorado brought in more than $60 million in taxes, licenses and fees for recreational and medical marijuana combined through October of this year, and more than half of pot sold was of the lesser-taxed medical variety.
In Washington, where supply problems and slow licensing hampered the industry after sales began in July, the state collected about $15 million in taxes this year.
Reining in medical marijuana will be a top priority when the legislative session begins in Olympia next month.
Officials have less leeway to alter the medical marijuana system in Colorado, where it was enshrined in the state constitution in 2000. But lawmakers are nevertheless set to review how it is regulated next year because the state’s 2010 scheme is expiring.
Taxes will be a large part of the discussion. Medical pot is now subject only to the statewide 2.9 percent sales tax, one-tenth of the taxes levied on recreational pot.
Colorado’s medical marijuana registry has grown from 107,000 people in late 2012 to about 116,000 this year, though marijuana patient advocates dispute that the growth is tax-driven.
State health officials, who oversee the registry, are planning to better scrutinize doctors who recommend large numbers of medical pot patients or who recommend more than the baseline of six plants for a patient.
The challenge for lawmakers will be countering perceptions that they’re trying to squeeze sick people for cash.
“I don’t want to wind up cracking down on people abusing the system in a way that negatively impacts the patients and the people who help them,” said Teri Robnett, founder of the Cannabis Patients Alliance.
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.
Read the complete article at the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/01/02/us/ap-us-rethinking-pot-a-year-later.html?_r=0