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6 questions and answers about Washington’s new legal pot sales

Cloned marijuana plants at the Sea of Green Farms growing facility in Seattle, Wash. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)

Two years after voters approved the sale of marijuana for recreational use and after overcoming regulatory hurdles, the drug is poised to go on sale in Washington state.

The state’s Liquor Control Board, which oversees the legal pot program, issued the first batch of licenses to retailers Monday, meaning shops can begin selling marijuana as soon as Tuesday morning, just seven months after sales began in Colorado. (Voters in both states approved the nation’s first recreational marijuana laws in 2012.)

Here’s a look at a few basic questions and answers about Washington’s new legal pot program and legal pot in general.

Where can you get it?

Washington state’s legal marijuana program will be off to a slow start. Just 79 growers have been granted licenses, all but ensuring shortages, a state official told the Associated Press.

And while the state plans to issue 334 retail licenses, with the most populous cities in each county getting a proportionate number of the licenses, its first batch went out to just 24 businesses. And, even among those, not all of them have plans to open shop Tuesday, according to local reports.

Here are the names and locations of the first 24 businesses to receive retail marijuana licenses:

How much does the state stand to make?

A one-gram packet of a variety of recreational marijuana named “Space Needle” is shown during packaging operations at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The state will impose a 25 percent excise tax at three different levels of the process, according to the Liquor Board. Marijuana will be taxed when producers sell to processors, processors sell to retailers and retailers sell to customers.

While the Liquor Board cautiously notes that “estimates range anywhere between $0 and $2 billion dollars during the first five years,” a February state forecast predicted that the state will get $51 million in marijuana-related revenues from 2015 to 2017 and $139 million over the following two years.

The money collected through taxes, fees and penalties will be distributed throughout the government every quarter. Here’s how:

  • The state Liquor Control Board will get $1.25 million to administer the recreational pot program.
  • $125,000 will go towards collecting data and producing reports on youth health.
  • The State Institute for Public Policy gets $50,000 to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and produce several reports over the next couple decades.
  • And $5,000 will go to the maintenance of online educational materials through the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

The remainder is shared among a variety of programs, including a state-subsidized health plan, the general fund, a substance abuse recovery program and a marijuana-related educational program, among others.

How do Washington’s rules compare to Colorado’s?

Cannabis City owner James Lathrop gestures as he stands in the middle of his new marijuana shop days before the grand opening on  July 2 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

The two states approached legalization in largely similar ways, though there are some meaningful differences. Here’s a look at just a few ways in which they compare, according to a Drug Policy Alliance comparison:

  • Washington capped the number of retail store licenses at 334, while Colorado imposed no cap.
  • In Colorado, residents are allowed to grow their own limited supply of pot, while it remains illegal in Washington.
  • Both limit sales to one ounce of pot, though Colorado further limits purchases by non-residents to a quarter ounce.
  • Both ban sales to anyone younger than 21 years old.
  • Washington taxes three levels of sale at 25 percent each. Colorado imposes a 15 percent excise tax from cultivation to processing or retail and a 10 percent tax at the point of sale.

What about the downsides of pot?

Washington marijuana billboard. (Washington Department of Social and Health Services)

The state isn’t launching its legal marijuana without its fair share of warnings. Washington has made billboard ads, such as the one above, and the Department of Health is running a $400,000 statewide education campaign featuring digital media and radio ads, including one warning parents of the dangers of youth use.

Earlier this year, the state also launched three humorous ads warning residents not to drive under the influence.

Tired of saying marijuana? Her are some other things to call it.

As part of the launch, the state is referring residents to find out more about marijuana through a comprehensive educational site maintained by the University of Washington. The materials include information for parents and adults unfamiliar with cannabis or the policies Washington is implementing. Among the materials on the site, you can find the follow list of synonyms for marijuana: grass, pot, dope, Mary Jane, hooch, weed, hash, joints, brew, reefers, cones, smoke, mull, buddha, ganga, hydro, yarndi, heads and green.

Which state will be next?

There’s no certain answer to that question, but at least one state has definite plans to consider legalization. Alaskan voters will have the opportunity to join their peers in Colorado and Washington this November, thanks to a measure placed on the ballot a few months ago. There, the legalization of medical marijuana passed by a 59 percent to 41 percent vote in 1998, though an initiative to do the same for recreational pot failed two years later by the exact same margin. Still, changing attitudes may translate to a different outcome later this year.

Earlier this year, activists said they were setting their sights on Oregon, Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada. Supporters also said they hoped lawmakers would propose and approve legalization in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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