Can Washington Keep the Lid on Legal Pot?

By Ben Feuerherd 01/29/13

The state's ability to keep weed within its borders could impact the future of legalization.

Can the state prevent weed overflow?
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Now that marijuana has been legalized in Washington, Governor Jay Inslee faces the daunting task of ensuring that crops of legal marijuana soon to be sold in the state won't slip across the borders into neighboring Oregon and Idaho. Gov. Inslee insists that he will take firm measures to prevent overflow, including using digital tracking technology to make sure all weed goes directly from growers to sellers. "I am going to be personally committed to have a well regulated, well disciplined, well tracked, well inventory-controlled, well law-enforcement-coordinated approach," he said. The state is under pressure to contain its crops, not only out of respect for neighboring states' laws, but also to prevent legal backlash from the federal government. Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the Department of Justice could sue states like Colorado and Washington for licensing grow operations. Many believe that the ability of these states to keep marijuana within their borders could determine whether or not the DOJ takes legal action. 

The prospect of preventing marijuana from flowing from one state to another provokes some skepticism. A recent law enforcement survey showed that pot currently sold in Colorado's tightly-regulated medical marijuana program routinely slips into neighboring states. But proponents of legalization maintain that it's possible. Alison Holcomb, who led Washington's legal pot campaign, says that Washington state should start by restricting supply. "Excess supply creates incentive to divert outside the state," she says. And Matt Cook, the former director of Colorado's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, claims that Colorado's digital "seed-to-store" regulations have proven effective. "It's a cutthroat business," he says. "If somebody sees something unusual, they're going to provide a tip...There's just about as good of a safeguard as you can have for diversion in the state of Colorado, and a lot of that is Big Brother watching you."

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter