State board drafting pot rules loses director

OLYMPIA — The agency creating a regulated marijuana system in Washington state will lose its director after Gov. Jay Inslee appointed her to a new job in his administration.

Pat Kohler will leave the Washington State Liquor Control Board to become director of the state Department of Licensing, according to Inslee’s office.

The governor said there is a lot of talent within the liquor control board, and the agency is already making progress on the challenging issue of implementing the pot initiative.

“I think they’ve assessed the challenges and they understand the importance of doing it right,” Inslee said.

The liquor control board is currently developing rules for a legal marijuana industry involving how plants will be grown, how marijuana products will be tested for strength and quality, and how many retail stores will be allowed.

Officials have been trying to develop a system with rules that would satisfy the federal government, which still considers marijuana an illegal substance.

Kohler will start her new job at the beginning of June, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said. The liquor control board will work to select a new director.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the liquor control board, said Kohler is committed to continuing the agency’s work until she leaves. He said the board just learned of the departure, so there was no immediate plan for how the agency will proceed in selecting a replacement.

Washington and Colorado voted last fall to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over age 21. Washington state officials are currently working to develop legal marijuana sales at state-licensed stores.

The board will begin vetting draft rules for all license types with stakeholders in mid-May. The rules are expected to become effective in August, with the board starting to accept applications for growing, processing and retailing licenses in September.

Separately on Wednesday, Inslee named Christopher Liu to serve as director of the Department of Enterprise Services, which supports other parts of state government with building management and other functions. Liu has been working as director of the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises.

Inslee chose Jesus Sanchez to lead the reorganized Center for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance, which is tasked with identifying problems and recommending ways to reduce the time and cost for businesses to interact with state government. Sanchez has been working for the city of Shoreline as public works operations manager.

Inslee reappointed Rob St. John as director of Consolidated Technical Services.

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Baker can be reached at https://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP

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