Washington Becomes Second State To Allow Marijuana Sales Without Doctor's Note

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UPDATED: Tuesday July 8, 2014 11:16 AM

Washington became the second state Tuesday to allow people to buy marijuana legally in the U.S. without a doctor's note.

People bought pot at 8 a.m. at Bellingham's Top Shelf Cannabis, one of two stores in the city north of Seattle that started selling marijuana as soon as it was allowed under state regulations.

The start of legal pot sales in Washington Tuesday marks a major step that's been 20 months in the making. Washington and Colorado stunned much of the world by voting in November 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, and to create state-licensed systems for growing, selling and taxing the pot. Sales began in Colorado on Jan. 1.

Washington issued its first 24 retail licenses Monday, though not all businesses planned to start selling weed on Tuesday. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride in Washington state, with product shortages expected as growers and sellers scramble to get ready.

Pot prices were expected to reach $25 a gram or higher on the first day of sales - twice what people pay in the state's unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. That was largely due to the short supply of legally produced pot in the state. Although more than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers, fewer than 100 have been approved - and only about a dozen were ready to harvest by early this month.

Colorado already had a regulated medical marijuana system, making for a smoother transition when it allowed those dispensaries to start selling to recreational pot shops on Jan. 1.

Washington's medical system is unregulated, so officials here were starting from scratch as they immersed themselves in the pot world and tried to come up with regulations that made sense for the industry and the public. The regulations include protocols for testing marijuana, what types of edibles should be allowed, requirements for child-resistant packaging, how much criminal history is too much to get a license, and what types of security systems pot shops and growers should have.

Washington law allows the sale of up to an ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of pot-infused solids, 72 ounces of pot-infused liquids or 7 grams of concentrated marijuana, like hashish, to adults over 21.

Advocates seeking more lenient marijuana laws have no intention of stopping with Colorado and Washington. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes, and more could follow. Here's a look at five of the states that may be welcoming more permissive marijuana laws in the near future:

ALASKA (legalization)

Alaska may seem like an unlikely place to follow the lead of liberals in Colorado and Washington, but the state's libertarian electorate may provide a good look at how a different breed of voters will respond to marijuana legalization.

It's early, but proponents have a big head start on fundraising and organization, led by the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

Marijuana legalization failed in Alaska in 2000 and 2004, but advocates say the landscape has changed markedly since then.

If the measure is approved, adults could use marijuana legally and purchase it at state-licensed stores, but use in public would still be illegal.

OREGON (legalization)

Oregonians rejected legalization just two years ago but are all but certain to have a chance to reconsider this November.

State elections officials haven't yet validated the signatures turned in last week, but advocates submitted far more than they needed.

Oregon has long been on the leading edge of the decades-long push to loosen marijuana laws. It was the first state to decriminalize small-scale marijuana possession in 1973 — a step that's been taken in more than a dozen other states. Marijuana use remains illegal, but possession of a small amount of the drug is punished with a citation and fine rather than a criminal charge. Oregon was also among the first states to approve medical marijuana.

Unlike Oregon's 2012 effort, the team behind the current initiative has strong backing from many of the groups and individuals who helped bankroll the successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (legalization)

The D.C. Cannabis Campaign says the group submitted 55,000 signatures for a legalization initiative on Monday — twice the number required to put the issue before voters.

The measure would allow possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in the nation's capital.

But the effort could be frustrated by Congress, which reviews all new laws in the District and has moved to block its other recent efforts to ease up on marijuana laws. Last month, the Republican-controlled House took a big step toward blocking a decriminalization bill passed by city lawmakers. That measure would make marijuana possession a civil offense subject to a $25 fine, one of the lowest in the nation.

Congress used a similar amendment to block the District from implementing its medical marijuana program for 10 years.

FLORIDA (medical)

The push for more liberal marijuana laws isn't limited to full legalization of the drug. Florida voters will be deciding whether to allow the drug for medicinal use.

A poll by Quinnipiac University in May found overwhelming support for medical marijuana in Florida, where it will require support from 60 percent of voters to pass in November. Nearly 9 out of 10 voters said they support allowing adults to use the drug for medical purposes. Support was over 80 percent for all age groups.

State lawmakers voted this year to legalize a strain of low-potency marijuana to treat epilepsy and cancer patients.

NEW YORK (medical)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill over the weekend making his state the 23rd to allow medical marijuana, though his state will have one of the most restrictive programs in the country.

The drug isn't expected to be available for at least 19 months while the state works out regulations.

Patients with one of 10 diseases will be allowed to use the drug, but it must be ingested or vaporized; smoking it will remain illegal. Some advocates argued it's too restrictive but called it an important step.

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