Marijuana tax set at 25%, drug-related DUIs up

WASHINGTON -- Under Initiative 502, passed by voters last fall, adults over 21 are now legally allowed to have up to an ounce of marijuana here in Washington.

Lawmakers will start issuing licenses to marijuana growers, processors, and retail stores, with the drug taxed 25 percent, at each stage.

"I have customers coming in all the time that I've never seen before," said Tim Adams, co-owner of Hippies in Kennewick.

"Occasionally I'll walk by someone and I'll think that I smell it," said Tri-Cities smoker "Alejandro."

Despite the obvious rise in marijuana use since the drug became legal, once it starts to sell in stores, state lawmakers want to put a 25 percent tax on the drug.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board will regulate the production and distribution of marijuana. The State Office of Financial management estimates the measure could raise $560 million a year in taxes.

"Tax rates are gonna be ridiculous, even if they can put in place a dispensary," said Adams.

Since marijuana has become legal, drug recognition experts in Franklin County have noticed a 50 percent increase in the number of drug-related DUI call outs, county-wide.

"A lot of people are very surprised to realize that you can be impaired on illegal drugs, and medication that's been prescribed by your doctor," said Cpl. Gordon Thomasson with the Franklin Co. Sheriff's Office, who is also a certified drug recognition expert. He added that marijuana DUIs are just as serious as driving while drunk. "It doesn't matter if you're impaired on drugs or alcohol, you're impaired, and you can get a DUI either way."

"Now that it's legal to be high and kinda have it, of course people are gonna abuse the right," added "Alejandro."

And the solution? Simple.

"Be responsible when you're taking medication and or drugs, including marijuana," said Thomasson.

"You'll get a record...And then what happens? You go to prison. Go to school!" exclaimed Adams.

The State Liquor Control Board is developing rules for the up and coming marijuana industry, with the possibility of "digital tracking" of inventory to prevent diversion to the black market.

Sales are set to begin late this year.