Washington state to release draft rules for legal marijuana


They’ve
spent
nearly
eight
months
visiting
marijuana
grow
houses,
studying
the
science
of
getting
high
and
earning
nicknames
such
as
“the
queen
of
weed.”
Now,
officials
in
Washington
state
are
taking
their
first
stab
at
setting
rules
for
the
state’s
new
legal
weed
industry.
The
state
is
releasing
preliminary
draft
rules
Thursday
afternoon,
possibly
covering
an
array
of
topics
ranging
from
how
pot
should
be
grown,
labeled
and
tested
for
quality
assurance
to
what
types
of
security
should
be
required at state-licensed pot
businesses.
The Liquor Control Board has given
few hints about what the rules will
entail. Board Chairwoman Sharon
Foster — who began a speech at a
recent conference by saying, “My
friends now call me the queen of
weed” — has said the board
probably won’t allow open-field
marijuana grows because they’re
too hard to control. There won’t be
any pot delivery companies to take
weed from a dispensary and deliver
it to customers because the law
does not provide for licensing of
pot delivery companies. People
who have old pot-related
convictions probably won’t be
barred from obtaining licenses.
But many other questions remain.
How does the state plan to collect
taxes, when federally insured banks
won’t let marijuana businesses
open accounts? How much pot-
related advertising will be allowed,
if any? Will there be caps on the
numbers of growers and processors
licensed to provide pot and pot
products to the stores? What
should be done with all the plants
— stalks, roots and leaves — after
harvest?
Some of those aren’t likely to be
answered yet. The state’s official
pot consultant is still working to
estimate how much marijuana
people here use, and those
estimates will help determine how
much pot gets produced.
“It’s been a lot of long hours,” said
Brian Smith , the spokesman for
the Liquor Control Board . “We are
doing the groundwork. We’re trying
to be as thorough as we can as we
go through this initial several
months since the election.”
Last fall, voters made Washington
and Colorado the first states to
legalize the sale of taxed marijuana
to adults over 21 at state-licensed
stores.
In Colorado, devising rules for the
pot industry fell to the Legislature,
which has passed a series of bills
laying out how marijuana should
be grown, packaged and taxed.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected
to sign the bills May 28.
Washington state’s measure
directed the Liquor Control Board ,
led by three voting members, to set
parameters for the industry.
Dozens of board employees divided
into 11 teams, each researching
different areas — licensing,
contracting, legal and policy,
enforcement — to inform the
board ’s decisions. The teams meet
weekly to keep apprised of one
another’s progress.
The board ’s comptroller, Mike
Steenhout, has worked with testing
labs and experts from around the
world to determine how the pot
should be tested to ensure that it’s
safe and consistent when it reaches
store shelves.
The board held eight public forums
around the state to hear what pot
growers, prospective retailers and
others had to say. More than 3,000
people attended; few were shy
about airing their views.
Now, the board is taking what it
has learned and setting out what
amounts to a draft of its draft
rules for the industry. After
allowing people to comment on the
rules it releases Thursday, it will
propose its official draft rules in
about month and take public
comment on those. The final rules
aren’t expected to be adopted until
this summer, with applications for
pot growing, processing and
retailing licenses accepted in
September.
Marijuana sales at state-licensed
stores should begin in early 2014
— unless the Justice Department
has something to say about it. Pot
remains illegal federally, and the
DOJ could sue to try to block the
licensing schemes in Washington
and Colorado from taking effect.
Cale Burkhart, who makes
marijuana-infused topical creams
under the Vita Verde brand, said he
hopes the board doesn’t limit the
number of growers and processors.
“It’s an emerging industry, and it’s
one that most anybody, as long as
they can have their ducks in a row,
can break into,” he said. “It should
be open to people so that grandma,
or a high school dropout, can have
the opportunity to start a business
and be successful. I’m excited to
see if that’s how they’re going to
do it.”