As voters in Washington state this month legalized marijuana for recreational use, they overrode the concerted lobbying of a conspicuous interest group: The dispensaries that already had the right to sell marijuana for medical use, and who now risk relinquishing that lucrative marketplace to new competitors.
Though one might assume that legalization would be opposed primarily by law enforcement and social conservatives, nearly all of the money donated to fight the ballot measure in Washington came not from such groups but rather from the existing medical marijuana industry, according to state campaign contribution filings.
The main group formed to oppose the legalization ballot measure, “No on I-502,” was directed by Steve Sarich, a patients’ rights advocate who runs a local dispensary or “access point,” as he calls it. He says neither he nor his campaign’s contributors opposed the measure for financial reasons. “There may be a few that are making some money,” he told HuffPost Monday, “but most of them are just paying the rent.”
The “No on I-502” campaign has argued that the ballot measure inappropriately makes marijuana users vulnerable to prosecution under the initiative’s DUID (“Driving Under the Influence of Drugs”) provision — an assertion that others have challenged.
But some involved in the fight suggest a more direct motive for the opposition: Those who already have the right to sell marijuana in Washington — the medical use industry — were reluctant to surrender the market to a new crop of competitors, a development likely to send prices plummeting while generating as much as $606 million in tax revenue next year, according to widely cited estimates.
“Clearly these are just folks who are trying to keep the status quo in place because it’s working for them right now,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Charging $150 to $400 for an ounce of marijuana is only possible under prohibition. You just can’t get that much money for dried vegetable matter if the product is actually legal.”