State begins work on strict controls for marijuana law

OLYMPIA — Washington state officials are looking to build a strictly regulated marijuana system that could forestall federal concerns about how the drug will be handled once it’s available for public purchase.

Rick Garza of the Washington Liquor Control Board said Monday he expects the federal government will try to take action if Washington’s system has loose controls. He said it’s important for Washington to have a strong regulatory structure, such as how participants in the system are licensed and how the product is handled from growth to the point of sale.

“The feds are going to tighten the rope if they feel like it’s not strictly regulated,” Garza said. “The more tightly regulated it is, they are likely to give us a little more room.”

One of the biggest issues the state is looking to manage is how much marijuana will be grown under the new system. Garza said it’s important for officials to properly project consumption rates so the state is growing the right amount of product for in-state users and not having any extra supply that could spill into other states that haven’t legalized marijuana.

Garza’s comments came a day before Gov. Jay Inslee was set to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss the marijuana law. Washington voters approved the marijuana law in November, but Justice Department officials have not indicated whether they will allow Washington and Colorado to create legal marijuana markets, since the drug is illegal under federal law.

Alison Holcomb, who helped lead Washington’s marijuana initiative, said the measure was written with the expectation that the system would be intensely scrutinized. She said it makes sense for the federal government to wait and see what the rules look like and what checks and balances are in place. She thinks federal officials will be more willing to allow legal pot to exist if they know it complements federal law enforcement efforts.

“From a public safety standpoint, they are going to look hard at what the outcomes are: Is it compromising public safety, or is it actually improving public safety?”

Holcomb said the initiative was drafted with a conservative approach that would be a small step into the legal pot world.

“We want to be held accountable,” Holcomb said. “We want this to be watched to see if it’s a workable alternative to marijuana prohibition.”

Washington’s Liquor Control Board, which has been regulating alcohol for 78 years, is in the process of soliciting advice from experts to help it determine how the state should grow, process, sell and regulate marijuana.

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Mike Baker can be reached on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/HiPpEV

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