Joint Venture

With I-502 now in effect, Seattle has become ground zero for the state’s recreational pot market

Betting on success
Washington has a lot to iron out before recreational weed can succeed here: whether quality control of regulated pot will be enough to entice black market customers; how to reconcile the unregulated medical cannabis market with the regulated recreational market; how to collect taxes and licensing fees from a cash-based industry; the best way to test drivers for cannabis DUIs; keeping adult-use marijuana out of the hands of minors, to name a few.

Along with Colorado, Washington’s success or failure could determine whether other states dive into the recreational-weed fray. (Although voters shot down Oregon’s Measure 80 in November, there’s talk of it reappearing on the ballot in 2014.)

“We’re in a very different place than we were with the repeal of alcohol prohibition,” says Alison Holcomb, drug policy director of Washington’s ACLU chapter and chief author of I-502. “In order to make sure other states aren’t going to worry that the sky’s going to fall, we need to make sure that we don’t have significant negative public health and public safety consequences.”

With the legal ban lifted, Holcomb anticipates more adults lighting up in the state, at least initially. She’s hopeful that public health strategies similar to those that have worked to reduce cigarette smoking among minors, including television bans on cigarette ads, will help thwart a rise in the number of kids using marijuana. Same goes for the Liquor Control Board bans on cannabis ads targeting minors. But, she concedes, the state’s pot regulations are a work in progress: “It’s going to continue evolving and changing. There’s going to be messiness.” (Above: Washington state’s strict security regulations for marijuana businesses are a boon for Daniel Williams of Canna Security America, based in Colorado.)

Washington’s potpreneurs say they’re up to the challenge.

“I think that as an agricultural crop, cannabis in Washington will be second only to apples,” says Privateer Holdings’ Kennedy. Having spent two months crunching the numbers “about 20 different ways,” he and his business partners are confident their gamble will bear fruit.

“The profit potential for the companies that we’re looking at and the companies that we’re investing in is very large,” Kennedy says. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.