By Greg James
In thinking about my second publisher’s statement, I decided to print the following instead. This is an editorial I submitted to a couple local papers in North-Central Washington two months ago. The point is that any community with the right growing conditions and political/business climate could take advantage of the big change in laws regarding marijuana in this state. Although Walla Walla will likely never be as big as Napa, California, there is no denying that the city has made a real name for itself in the Washington wine business. Could Okanogan County — or any other Washington community — do the same with legal marijuana?
The recent legalization of marijuana in Washington State is a potential game-changer, and could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Okanogan County. Not since large-scale gambling was legalized in Nevada in the 1930s has there been anything to compare to the sweeping changes that legalized pot in Washington and Colorado could do for the two states, and specifically, certain regions in those states. It seems likely — just as with other once illegal, then legalized industries — that those who get in first and establish themselves as the centers of the production could be in for a long and profitable ride. Think Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee or bourbon in Kentucky, fine wines in Napa and Walla Walla, gambling in Las Vegas and beer in Milwaukee (all of which were once prohibited).
Although there might be marginally better locations to grow marijuana in Washington State, the beautiful scenery, clear rivers and abundant sunshine of Okanogan County would create an almost ideal location.
The combination of great growing conditions and spectacular vistas could lead to big tourism dollars flowing in from out-of-state visitors who would come to Okanogan County on marijuana tours and tastings.
Along the same lines, whiskey and whiskey tourism generated $265 million for Louisville, Kentucky in 2012, and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail had 500,000 visitors that same year.
Getting in early might start a huge economic boom and a significant lead in an industry that is inevitably going to be welcomed somewhere. And, that’s the key: it will be welcomed somewhere. The Lynchburg, Tennessee (home of Jack Daniel’s) of marijuana may come down to something as simple as a group of forward-thinking local politicians or business leaders making the decision to welcome the new industry by actively inviting growers and investors to visit the county for a look.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not an advocate of marijuana use, and I don’t intend to start using it now that it’s legal. Pot — like booze and gambling — has the potential to ruin, or sidetrack an otherwise productive life. But then again, so can junk food, video games, tobacco, prescription drugs and a whole host of other products and activities that — when abused — negatively impact health and reduce individual productivity. It’s simply a fact of life that some people will not do a good job of managing their personal health and well-being. But, why should the rest of society waste time and money criminalizing a product and activity that will go on regardless of the law enforcement tax dollars thrown at it? Why should we be forced to fight — and fund — an unwinnable war?
I believe marijuana should have been legalized and regulated decades ago. With legalization, most of the crime goes away, less people go to jail, taxes are collected, and the police can focus on violent criminals and hard drugs. So, if the predictions are correct that 14 more states, including California, are going to go “legal” in the next few years, it sure seems like a great opportunity to embrace something early that may well turn out to be a goose laying green-tinged golden eggs well into the future.