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Published on Friday, March 11, 2016

New report out on Washington’s marijuana legalization experience; not all findings are positive

The Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area has released its first report on the impact of marijuana legalization in the State of Washington. Similar reports have been published in Colorado by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The detailed report, a federally funded endeavor, covers the history of marijuana in Washington since voters approved it for medical use in 1998. Findings include a still-thriving black market, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue generated for the state in recreational sales, and a steady stream of marijuana diversion across state lines. Additionally, the study finds:

  • There were seventeen THC extraction lab explosions in 2014. THC is the component of marijuana that produces the “high,” and is used to make products like high-THC concentrates and oils. Extraction processes typically includes using highly flammable butane gas, which can be ignited by static electricity from clothing or even a refrigerator cycling.
  • The incidents of marijuana-impaired driving are increasing. Drivers with active THC in their blood who were in a fatal driving accident rose 122 percent from 2010 (16) to 2014 (23) according to the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.
  • Washington State young adults (between 18 and 25) and use by adults older than 26 was five percent higher overall than the national average in 2012-2013.
  • Phone calls related to marijuana edibles and other products infused with marijuana have taken a big leap at the Washington Poison Center since legalization, especially related to youth. The center has logged 312 percent more calls related to infused products, and calls related to marijuana oil jumped 350 percent over three years. A report published by the center in 2014 states that children under the age of 18 account for 50 percent of their intoxication calls related to chocolate and candy, with 25 percent of the reports related to goods baked with marijuana.
  • Legal marijuana production is balanced fairly equally between counties in western Washington and eastern Washington, although the number of retail stores in western Washington far exceeds stores east of the Cascades. The counties with the highest total number of licenses issued (including producer, processor and retailer) are King, Snohomish, Spokane, and Okanogan, with Spokane County the highest at 189, of which, 97 are licensed growers. Okanogan has the second highest number of licensed growers at 42.

The full report can be downloaded here. New reports are scheduled to be produced yearly to track long-term impacts of marijuana legalization in Washington State.

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