A UBC expert says legal marijuana shops in nearby Washington state puts pressure on B.C. and Canada to re-think its cannabis laws
The first legal recreational marijuana shops have opened in Washington state, including two stores in Bellingham, a short drive from the U.S.-Canada border. Zach Walsh, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus and co-director for the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law, discusses how the industry could impact cannabis laws on both sides of the 49th parallel.
What are the challenges Washington state faces with the legalization and licensing of retail marijuana stores?
The biggest challenge will likely be providing sufficient product to meet demand. At least at the start, there seem to be relatively few producers and distributors that have cleared all the regulatory hurdles. The vast majority of consumers are already accessing cannabis from the illegal market and if they face substantial barriers to access–long lines, rationing–they may simply continue to use existing sources. Colorado, which relied more heavily on its existing medical cannabis infrastructure, seems to have been somewhat better prepared on the supply side.
How might these marijuana shops affect efforts on both sides of the border to legalize cannabis?
I expect that as we begin to see the results of research that evaluates the consequences of legalization, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain the status quo of prohibition. Early results from Colorado suggest that violent crime has gone down since legalization and I expect that we may also see reductions in other negative public health consequences as more people use cannabis as a substitute for alcohol. Colorado has also exceeded its projected tax revenues, which will appeal to state and provincial governments. Nonetheless, the stigma surrounding cannabis remains strong, so it may still be a while before governments catch up with the general population on this issue.
How could Washington state’s marijuana market impact neighbouring B.C.?
It makes us seem increasingly out of step, and will add fuel to calls for legalization. The recent Sensible BC initiative received as much support as ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington, but our bar is much higher to mandate a referendum. My understanding is that Sensible BC intends to try again soon, and publicity from Washington may help to push them over the edge. There are also plans for referenda in California and Oregon, and Mexico is in the process of considering drug reform–particularly with regard to cannabis–so we may see a scenario where B.C. is the lone holdout against legal cannabis along the West Coast of North America, which would be somewhat strange.