Pot legalization will likely be a smooth process, Washington governor says

Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to broadly legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 and Gov. Jay Inslee says few of the concerns expressed at the time became a reality.

Decriminalization 'largely has been a success' says Gov. Jay Inslee on visit to Vancouver

British Columbia Premier John Horgan, right, and Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has a message of reassurance for Canadians who may fear that legalization of recreational marijuana next week will come with a wave of negative consequences: It's not as bad as you think.

Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to broadly legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 and Inslee says few of the concerns expressed at the time became a reality.

"The decriminalization of marijuana by all ways of judging it, I believe, largely has been a success in the sense that the fears of those who were not supportive of our efforts really have not been realized," Inslee told reporters at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.

"We've not had crime associated with it, we've not had adverse health effects, there is not evidence of significant increase in youth usage."

Uncertainty over impaired driving

However, there is still a need for more research on traffic-related issues and the state has struggled with impaired driving, he said.

While Washington has not documented any increase in traffic accidents tied to an increase in marijuana consumption, Inslee said it has seen a rise in chemicals in drivers' bloodstreams including alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates.

"That has happened, but we haven't seen it necessarily tied to marijuana," he said.

Recreational marijuana will be legalized across Canada on Oct. 17.

Inslee recommended that the various levels of government have strong regulatory frameworks in place, including packaging rules that ensure consumers know exactly what they're getting — especially when edibles become legal in the future.

He said Washington benefited by issuing only as many production and retail licences as it could handle, compared with other states that issued unlimited licences and created a "Wild West" environment.

Appeal for patience

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said his government has taken cues from Washington state, including limiting the number of licensed outlets, but said transitioning to legalization is a "challenge."

A number of existing dispensaries will have to go through the process of being licensed again, he said.

"Many are very well on their way to becoming re-certified or re-established ,but that's going to take some time and I think I would appeal to the public for patience and also to the providers for patience," Horgan said.

Horgan said law enforcement is focused on how to best manage impaired driving and he's hopeful that governments will have more answers for the public soon.

"That's been an issue right across the country. When I talk to other premiers, that's the highest priority."

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