State hires firm to help implement marijuana sales

OLYMPIA — Washington planted another seed for a legal marijuana industry today, hiring a Massachusetts firm to help the state ensure the voter-demanded venture flourishes.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board on Tuesday announced that it has retained Botec Analysis Corp. to advise regulators on how much pot should be produced and how many growers and retail stores should be licensed when the industry launches early next year — barring any challenge from the federal government.

The company is based in Cambridge, Mass., and headed by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA. The state will pay the firm $292 an hour under the contract.

Washington and Colorado last year became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis. Sales are expected to begin at the end of the year at the earliest.

Botec, founded in the mid-1980s, studied the results of an effort to crack down on heroin dealers in Lynn, Mass., and in the early 1990s advised the Office of National Drug Control Policy on drug-demand reduction programs.

Kleiman has written several books on drug policy and crime, including “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

He’s also argued in the past that states cannot make recreational use of marijuana legal because the federal government would step in to stop it.

“Pot dealers nationwide — and from Canada, for that matter — would flock to California to stock up,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in 2010, when California was considering legalizing marijuana. “There’s no way on earth the federal government is going to tolerate that. Instead, we’d see massive federal busts of California growers and retail dealers, no matter how legal their activity was under state law.”

Kleiman has praised the medicinal uses of cannabis and urged the federal government to allow its lawful sale at pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription.

“I keep hoping that the National Institute on Drug Abuse will relax the policy which has effectively prevented researchers from acquiring cannabis to use in clinical research, and that the medical marijuana advocates will devote some tiny fraction of their litigation-and-petitioning budget to the medical research that could take this issue off the table politically,” he wrote in 2009 in response to a question from a medical marijuana group.

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