Should Marijuana Laws Be Enforced By The Department Of Revenue And Not Traditional Law Enforcement?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Marijuana LeafPrior to marijuana legalization in Washington, enforcement of state marijuana laws were, as with the various other states, primarily enforced by city police, county sheriff’s departments, and the state patrol.

Now the driving force behind state efforts has mostly shifted to the Washington State Liquor Control Board and the Washington Department of Revenue for licensing and revenue collection for state licensed producers, processors, and retailers. The medical marijuana aspect is currently unregulated by the state. There does remain, however, the illicit trade which still provides contraband marijuana and remains the largest supplier of the substance.

Yet when we look at other regulated substances such as alcohol and tobacco, local law enforcement officers rarely intervene in the illegal trade. The primary agency responsible for enforcement of these substances’ statutes is that of the Liquor Control Board.

Should enforcement of the marijuana laws be deferred by traditional law enforcement as well?

In Washington, traditional police agencies commission what is referred to as General Authority Washington Peace Officers, known to the public as Police Officers, Sheriff’s Deputies, and State Troopers (along with their respective agency chiefs and sheriffs). These officers have the authority to enforce any law in the state both criminal and civil. Sheriffs have greater authority with regard to certain procedural issues with the courts and other processes and the State Patrol has a few duties delegated to its personnel but for the most part they are the same.

These agencies and officers have the power to arrest someone for ordinary crimes as well as for possession of untaxed cigarettes. But, the latter is rare indeed.

In practice the regulatory criminal laws are deferred by traditional Law Enforcement Officers and agencies to the various state departments having regulatory authority. The Department of Labor and Industries enforces criminal laws relating to unlicensed contractors not the local sheriff’s department. Local police agencies will not allocate funds or personnel to contractor violations due to this and other issues that are covered by specific state agencies.

Now, with legalization and taxation of marijuana, the focus has shifted away from outright contraband to enforcement based upon violation of a regulatory scheme. That is, the illegal possession and distribution of marijuana in violation of regulatory law. As such and at present there is now a situation in Washington where enforcement of regulatory mandates of an industry holds dual primary jurisdiction between a state regulatory agency, the Liquor Control Board, and local law enforcement. Seattle being one of the few jurisdictions where the legislative body (the City Council) mandated the police department treats marijuana enforcement as the lowest priority.

The duplicate enforcement nature between law enforcement agencies and a state regulatory department is rare and with regard to alcohol and tobacco it is certainly the case. In actuality city and county agencies do not allocate resources to these two in the least.

There arises a similar question with city and county police agencies now with marijuana. Should these entities perform the work of the Department of Revenue or the Liquor Control Board? If other regulatory matters are to be used as examples the answer should be “No.”

Let us use tobacco as our working example.

wa-lcb-logoAs stated before, the primary agency responsible in the state for the regulation of tobacco distribution is the Liquor Control Board. The agency responsible for tax collection is the Department of Revenue. Tobacco is excise taxed at the wholesale level and sales taxed at the retail level. Traditional law enforcement agencies do not involve themselves with regulating the industry. It is a felony to possess greater than 50,000 untaxed cigarettes by a person unauthorized by regulatory statute and a misdemeanor for less than this. Yet, traditional agencies only generally enforce this when requested by the LCB or Department of Revenue to assist their agency. Most of the violations are processed behind the scenes without involvement with local police agencies.

Now, we have marijuana in the same category as tobacco in many respects.

A person or organization may possess as a licensed producer hundreds of pounds of marijuana just as a licensed tobacco wholesaler may possess hundreds of thousands of untaxed cigarettes. If the sale and transfer of these products is made to a licensed receiver of these goods and the appropriate taxes and paperwork is filed with the state no violation occurs. If a violation does occur, again, this is handled by the Department of Revenue and the Liquor Control Board. In essence this is no different than with marijuana.

A person bringing contraband cigarettes into the state would most likely receive enforcement action by these two state agencies. Not local law enforcement primarily.

Since now the primary state interest in marijuana is regulatory and taxation. Violations should now be viewed the same as other contra-regulatory practices—not under the purview of traditional police agencies—and instead the Liquor Control Board and the Department of Revenue.

wa-dor-logoThis concept involves the changing of a mindset away from enforcement against a fully contraband substance, marijuana. We saw with the end of alcohol prohibition in Washington, the state eventually established the Liquor Control Board that oversaw the importation, distribution and sale of spirits in a fully state controlled environment (though this was repealed partially in 2012). During prohibition, local law enforcement had greater involvement, if not somewhat reluctantly in certain jurisdictions. Now, the police rarely involve themselves. Traditional Law Enforcement Officers do not view alcohol as a priority and mostly only become involved when it is shoplifted as is the case with other goods. Police do not participate in other regulatory actions.

Marijuana is in actuality the same matter.

The various city and county agencies would free up significant resources in terms of manpower and budget if they nearly completely stopped enforcement of marijuana regulations and deferred this to the Liquor Control Board and the Department of Revenue. Grows and possessions of illegal marijuana are in essence licensing and tax violations which are better suited to regulation which is not the purview of the police. There is no reason to believe that in actuality it is any different than for cigarettes, wine, or widgets.

There is an argument made that local governments could articulate an interest in deterring the organized crime element that is manifest in the marijuana trade and that organized crime element does degrade the quality of life and safety in the community. But when looking at the tobacco model organized crime IS involved in the untaxed cigarette market in bringing in contraband cigarettes from other countries or hijacking shipments. In fact, according to the Department of Revenue about 38% of all cigarettes sold in Washington are contraband and sold untaxed. The primary reason for this is Washington’s high cigarette taxes, just the same as the untenable taxation on marijuana being the largest reason the legal marijuana industry is risking collapse in the state.

While local law enforcement agencies certainly have a duty and a role to curtail the dangerous drug trade, such as with methamphetamine and heroin by statute, the time has come for these agencies to abandon marijuana enforcement as a primary responsibility and be in line with the changes of these times and our society.

By Darren Smith

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

17 thoughts on “Should Marijuana Laws Be Enforced By The Department Of Revenue And Not Traditional Law Enforcement?”

  1. HappyPP, very good. Though a FEW synthetic products can help, by & large synthesized stuff is useless. Chemists, as smart as they are, cannot truly replicate what ism found in nature. Synthetic vitamins are a prime example.
    The chemists will say “There is no chemical difference!”
    Which my be at least somewhat true, but they neglect to tell us the true difference is not so much chemical as it is biological.
    I think there is a war on nature…
    Most all those favoring the prohibition of cannabis have a vested $$ interest…they don’t want to lose grant $, have budgets reduced & so on.


    1. SamFox

      Thank you Sam I read everything everyone sends me. I try to keep an open mind.

  2. “shelly

    Dr. Sanchez sees the potential for THC to cure cancer naturally and questions why cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug in the U.S. in the first place…”

    Probably because of the real & most deadly drug pushers of all time, the Rx Chemical Drug Complex & their lobbyists.

    For a great read about how cannabis was prohibited in the 1st place, a prohibition that was morphed into the war on some drugs, go to the Jack Herer site & find The Book. The title, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. The author, Jack Herer, has gone to his reward but his wife has the site still going.


    1. SamFox

      Today cancer treatment represents a 200 billion dollar a year industry and is largely derived from synthetic versions of natural plants. For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb owns the patent for Taxol/Paclitaxle, a chemical discovered in the Pacific Yew tree. It is now the first drug of choice for several tumorous cancers including breast cancer. They also own the patent for Etoposide, a semisynthetic derivative of a plant chemical epipodophyllotoxin, discovered in the Mayapple plant family. Eli Lily owns the patent for Vinblastine, a chemical discovered in the Madagascar Periwinkle in the 1950s. Vinblastine is first on the list for many doctors in treating a variety of forms of leukemia.

      [Indigenous tribe]

      This is one of the reasons indigenous rain forests are being decimated. Pharmaceutical companies (often under the guise of environmental protection) team with developers to relocate tribes, steal their knowledge of the indigenous healing plants, modify and make a synthetic version of the plant, and patent the derivative they create. No benefit is awarded the keepers of this knowledge, nor is the land protected from which it is found.

      Because natural remedies can’t be patented, they are suppressed in favor of patentable (i.e. financially profitable) synthetic treatments. This includes cannabis, a plant that was considered a mainstay of treatment for a wide range of ailments until the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, at which time it was officially removed from the US Pharmacopeia and National Formulary, the organization that mandates the standards for all prescription and over the counter drugs. In fact, a law was passed in 1937 that made it illegal for any US physician to prescribe cannabis in any form.

  3. well cops police other sch drugs….ppl are going to prison for rx drugs….even tho they only come from regulated and taxed channels. So a few states allow rec and med use of pot. But it’s still illegal there federally. Also it’s illegal there for underage….dept of revenue or who ever might do tobacco sales….but cops all across the country bust underage drinkers…. Pot should be no different.

  4. End drug prohibition it is a colossal failure in terms of interdiction, eradication and incarceration.

    After spending trillions of dollars and destroying untold millions of lives in the US governments disastrous drug prohibition crusade Cannabis is the # 1 cash crop in the US.


    The paragraph below was excerpted from the following:

    Marijuana Production in the United States (2006)
    by Jon Gettman

    Comparison with other Cash Crops

    At an estimated $35.8 billion marijuana is by far the largest cash crop in the United States when compared to the average production values of other crops from 2003 to 2005. (Production values for other crops were obtained from the Department of Agriculture. [22])

  5. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. The power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s how we got in this mess in the first place.
    It was a prohibition masquerading as a tax. Whether these stupid laws are enforced by guns or by legalized theft by the taxman, they are still wrong. But some people think the govt. must “protect” them. The result is predictable.

  6. It took 13 years of prohibition, to find out it was never going to work. They didn’t repeal prohibition because booze was determined to now be healthy for people. They repealed it to get rid of all the killing, crime, & corruption associated with it.

    And all the cost in policing, prosecuting, and imprisoning people.
    And since when is having the punishment worse than the offense done any good? Pot won’t kill you, but the DEA might!

    Authorities always say how drugs destroy people’s lives, but YEARS in prison don’t?!?!

  7. There is an entire sub economy that thrives on the war against drugs. Take a way the war, and a LOT of people will be out of a job. It’s not that hard to figure out. It’s also very self-serving–it’s a general understanding–where there’s a market, there WILL be trade. Didn’t work in prohibition, ain’t working here. Great income guaranteer though–the dependability of the natural perpetuity of human behavior. That perpetuity helps keep the big funding coming! Almost as good as “death and taxes…”

  8. How did we get to the point of allowing cops, who are not doctors or scientists, to be in charge of “drug” enforcement in the first place?

  9. If somebody discovered that sniffing sawdust got you high.. there wouldn’t be a tree left in america by summer.. its just the nature of the bureaucratic mind.

    But grandpa’s rocker would have a street value around $1, 000 an ounce.

  10. Your premise is logically in error. It assumes that government officials be regulating something (a weed) that SHOULD be regulated. Only special interests persist in criminalizing a harmless weed, then ruining lives by arresting 700,000 people each year who they have caught or entrapped and caught, possessing and/or selling it. Why do you think that’s a good thing?

  11. I worry about local officials having total responsibility for enforcement. If the law is a statewide law, there does need to be some state authority, at least overseeing how the law is being enforced on a local basis.

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