Pot genie is out of the bottle

Prohibition didn’t work, or so lawmakers learned more than 80 years ago. But the parallels between America’s puritanical experiment with the Eighteenth Amendment and the legal sale of marijuana likely end there.

Today, Washington gets into the weeds (pun intended). The serpentine bureaucracy, the reams of regulations. Cannabis has met the enemy, and he is us.

For some in law enforcement, jaded by trivial marijuana busts, it’s a long-time coming. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, an advisory board member of the organization “Law Enforcement Again Prohibition,” issued a sanguine prediction. “Washingtonians know that, as in Colorado, governments both foreign and domestic will be watching to see how legalization progresses in the state,” he said. “And I imagine that, as in Colorado, lower crime rates, increased tax revenue, thousands of new jobs and continuing public support will indicate legalizing and regulating marijuana is one of the simplest ways to improve not just our criminal justice system, but our state governments generally.”

Thousands of jobs and improved government? Both “Reefer Madness” alarmists and pot-Valhalla enthusiasts embrace hyperbole. Data will give us the good, the bad and the predictable.

First, the bad: There are more people driving stoned, according to the Washington State Patrol. In the first six months after Initiative 502 took effect, 745 drivers pulled over by cops tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. More than half of those surpassed Washington’s intoxication threshold of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. In each of the last two years before legalization, the number was around 1,000. Experts will quibble: Are there more stoned drivers or more cops attentive to the signs?

There will be pot revenue and, much to the surprise of skeptics, the feds will allow the state to collect it. According to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, the figure is $51 million for the 2015-17 biennium and $138.5 million the following biennium. That’s real money, but it’s just a blip in fully funding K-12.

Legal dope or no, human nature remains unchanged, which means bird-dogging profit-oriented retailers is essential. Hefty costs may fuel the existing black market. There will be bumps along the way.

Most Northwesterners don’t smoke pot, but those who do are mostly white. The disproportionate number of people of color prosecuted for weed will now, we assume, plummet.

The data will tell us. The pot genie is out of the bottle.