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In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters made history when they approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington Initiative 502 “authorizes the state liquor board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age or older.”Since the vote in Washington, the Liquor Board has written a complex set of rules for the state’s new, legal recreational cannabis marketplace. The agency has also set limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown. And the Board has begun to license growers, processors and retailers.For now, the Obama administration has signaled it will not interfere with Washington and Colorado’s legal pot experiment, unless there is evidence that legal pot is “leaking” to other states or children are getting access to the legal product. The feds are also watching to see if criminal organizations exploit the legal market.The first marijuana retail stores in Washington opened in July 2014.Recreational marijuana is also set to become legal in Oregon on July 1, 2015 after voters approved Measure 91 in November 2014.

Pot Legalization: What Can Washington Learn From End Of Prohibition?

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This summer marijuana stores will open for business across Washington.

The new legal pot market is modeled on a system the state adopted 80 years ago when prohibition ended. But are there other parallels between the legalization of alcohol then and marijuana today.

In the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," we’re transported to the days of Al Capone and prohibition.

It was an era where gunfire often settled underworld business disputes. But when prohibition was repealed in 1933, business began to dry up for the gangsters, bootleggers and rumrunners.

So when legal marijuana sales begin in Washington, how long will it take for the black market for pot to go up in smoke?

"Oh I don’t know. I would think three, four, five years," says Rick Garza, who heads Washington’s Liquor Control Board.

He says in the first year the state only expects to capture 25 percent of the recreational pot market. But over time he’s confident the black market will lose its customer base.

"I think once you bring something out of the shadows and you create a legal marketplace, people want to use that," Garza says.

Washington’s former pot consultant agrees.

Mark Kleiman of UCLA predicts the legal market will ultimately capture 90 percent of pot sales. But he says that won’t happen until production ramps up and the current medical marijuana market is regulated.

In other respects, the legalization of pot does not mirror the end of prohibition, says David Wilma, a former federal narcotics agent turned writer and historian.

Wilma tells the story of a reporter who walked into a bar in Seattle’s Pioneer Square on the day prohibition was lifted. But there was no one there celebrating. "And the bartender says, 'Ya, it’s really a quiet night, no big deal. It must be the rain.'"

The point being, says Wilma, even during the dry years people had easy access to alcohol and it was part of the culture.

You can bet the first day pot stores are open in Washington there will be people celebrating, rain or shine.

Wilma does see one key similarity between the end of prohibition and the legalization of pot: the opportunity for entrepreneurs to cash in.

And that, says the former federal agent, will invite another age-old crime: tax evasion.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."