Washington marijuana vote: How will it affect Montana?

Washington marijuana vote: How will it affect Montana? (4-25-13)

MISSOULA, Mont. - Back in November, voters in Washington state approved a law that allows people to possess up to an ounce of Marijuana for recreational use. Currently, the only 'stores' that sell marijuana in Washington are the dispensaries that sell marijuana to card-carrying medical patients. However, state officials are deciding how a grow-and-sell system will look in the state, and recreational stores are expected to start popping up next year.

"The potential for tax revenue, keeping people out of jail for a useless crime is going to benefit everybody," said Lance Lorz, a Washington resident, part of an organization that runs a medical grow-operation outside of Spokane.

Lorz says the medical grow house his group operates would be a great model for recreational grow houses, and he wants the operation to switch over to recreational production. He points to its remote location, alarm, barbed wire fence and lack of windows. The operation is housed in a former pharmaceutical production facility.

As the new law in Washington pans out, some law enforcement officials in Montana are keeping an eye on developments. Some say there is a possibility that the new law will lead to an increased supply in Montana, as well as lowered prices.

"We certainly don't want to see increased availability, especially to our young people in our community," said Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, adding that lowered local prices is a potential outcome, which would make his job harder. However, he adds that the law's effects really remain to be seen. 

Supporters of the law point to the ounce limit, possibly limiting the incentive for someone to buy legal marijuana in Washington and flip it in a different state.

Some wonder how the federal government will react to the recreational law. Federal officers helped raid Montana medical marijuana operations in Montana back in March, 2011, and they've raided Washington medical businesses too.

"We've received support from our governor, that if the feds want to come in and stop what we as voters have asked for, then he says that they'll be up for a fight" said Lorz.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to announce what the Justice Department plans to do in the wake of the legalization votes in Washington and Colorado.

Meanwhile, the Washington Liquor Board has announced that it will issue grow licenses on December 1, and legal marijuana sales aren't expected to begin before spring of 2014.

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