The Regulation and Tolerance of Marijuana in the World’s Most Liberal City

I have been trying to do research and prepare for my final project, so I’ve been too busy to have time to blog!

It is not uncommon for Law, Societies, and Justice majors at the UW to be willing and eager to discuss political, uncomfortable, or touchy subject matter. So, it’s definitely not a surprise we were so excited to contrast American and Dutch policy regarding marijuana. I don’t even know where to start on this topic. My knowledge of the new pot laws in Washington State is not necessarily extensive enough to make a substantial comparison, but I do know for a fact that if everything in Washington runs as planned, Washingtonian pot business owners and the general public will enjoy much more favorable regulation than those in the Dutch case.

Last week, we toured a pot shop! They call them coffeeshops here. Let me tell you, that gets confusing. I’m from Seattle! I’m like, I just want to go to a coffeeshop for an Americano! But no… Oh… wait… I have to say cafe, specifically. So, essentially, a coffeeshop is a place where pot is sold (this term dates back to the Civil Rights Era when one man just decided to create a coffeeshop atmosphere for pot consumption), and a cafe is a place where you can buy coffee, sandwiches, or alcohol. Sorry Washingtonians, I will forever hesitate when you ask me if I’d like to find a coffeeshop.

Let me elaborate on this and try not to be too social-scientific!

In the Netherlands, marijuana is illegal but officially tolerated. In Washington State, marijuana has been decriminalized. In the United States (federally), marijuana is completely illegal – though it varies by state, and many provide avenues for obtaining pot for medicinal purposes.

From the business owner’s standpoint, there is this weird front-door back-door thing they have to work with. It is actually illegal for pot shops in Amsterdam to obtain marijuana! So, they have to use the drug trade/trafficking/attics/basements/other means to obtain the pot they sell to the public, and it has to come through the back door. They have to be secretive about the shipment, and the police can seize the pot shipments. Seems a little unsafe to me… In contrast, Washington State can certify and monitor pot farms, and put their stamp of approval on legal American marijuana.

Washington also puts a substantial tax on the legal marijuana as a way of saying “yeah, maybe this tax will deter you from buying weed, but that’s the price you have to pay for legality.” That tax goes into our infrastructure, our public employees, our programs, our schools (including my education, which I have to be in favor of), and the government budget. Essentially, our method provides a safe method of obtaining marijuana where the state can reap the benefits. Holland doesn’t tax the marijuana, so their approach is more just tolerance than structure.

Washington (to my knowledge) also is not a fan of the coffeeshop environment that allows patrons to smoke marijuana inside an establishment. That’s huge here. You can buy pre-rolled joints, grams, or baked goods to-go, but many patrons really seem to enjoy the leisure of sitting down with friends in a cozy coffeeshop environment.

So, we toured one of these coffeeshops, and the owner was very open about his business. He owns four coffeeshops in Amsterdam. He explained that each franchise can only keep 5oo grams in a store at a time, and the cops come twice a year to investigate. They even bring in their dogs! It seems a little excessive. But, 500 grams is apparently not a lot of stock, so they have to keep stock elsewhere, which is entirely illegal. Once, the police seized and destroyed his inventory valued at thousands of euros. However, he kept the stock in his computer, so he knew exactly what was there. He was able to write that loss of property on his tax return and be reimbursed for it. It’s so confusing.

His business is completely legal, but what he’s doing is not. It’s like running a grocery store but not being able to obtain the tomatoes. You can only get the tomatoes through the back door, and it has to be a secret! The police know you’re selling tomatoes, but they don’t know where you get the tomatoes, and they don’t like it. You can only keep a certain amount of tomatoes at one time or they’ll shut you down. They’re also not going to tax your tomatoes, or make sure that your tomatoes were grown in a safe way.

It’s a little hard to wrap the mind around.

The most confusing part of Washington law to me regards Canada. So, Canada is pretty tolerant of pot and Washington is obviously very tolerant. BUT: the border is federal property! Bringing marijuana across that border is trafficking and could probably be met with life in prison under certain circumstances.

So, in conclusion, I’m excited to see how things go in Washington. I think our laws are much more straightforward and let the government and the police keep a better eye on the pot trade. I mean, it’s going to happen. People are going to buy, sell, and consume weed. The government might as well make it safe while making a profit.

I like that we’re able to talk about these things in academia and leave morals out of it to the best of our ability. That might not be entirely accurate though, because laws are based on morals and law and morality are dependent on each other! We had this discussion in class the other day when we were all at odds on some issues. I do love debating law and morality and the hand of the government, so the pot discussion was quite compelling.

Apologies if I left anything out of this rundown on pot law, but I’m open for questions and lively debate and comparison!