State postpones setting rules for marijuana industry

OLYMPIA — State regulators are going to spend more time writing rules for a legal marijuana industry in order to answer questions such as how much pot will be grown and how many retailers may sell it in each county.

Members of the Washington State Liquor Control Board are expected today to delay final action by two months to make changes prompted by what they heard in public meetings in Everett and other cities last week.

That means those desiring a license to grow, process or sell pot will have to wait until November to apply. The state had been on track to approve the licensing rules today and start accepting applications next month.

Even with the delay, the legal framework for taxing marijuana when it’s harvested, shipped to distributors and sold at licensed stores will be in place by Dec. 1, the deadline set by voters when they passed Initiative 502 last year.

Another 60 days won’t upset the timetable for launching an industry next year to allow adults to legally buy pot for personal enjoyment.

Agency director Rick Garza recommended taking extra time to get it as right as they can.

“The process is working exactly as it should,” Garza said, in a statement. “Potential licensees, local governments, law enforcement and the general public all deserve clarity and certainty in the rules.

“Our stakeholders are not telling us to hurry up. In fact, they are asking us to consider their comments for the proposed rules,” he said. “Their input now will only help strengthen and improve the rules that will govern Washington’s system of legal marijuana,” he said.

Those closely tracking the process will notice several changes when the revised rules come out Sept. 4 for public comment.

One of the most significant is the state will now set a cap on the total amount of marijuana to be grown in the state, said spokesman Brian Smith. The agency also is going to clarify how much product each licensee can have on hand at any time, he said.

There will be clarity on the potential number of retailers to be licensed in Snohomish County, though their specific locations won’t be known, he said.

Consultants are working through a slew of computations involving population density and various numbers of stores statewide to come up with those figures, he said.

Under one scenario, if 330 stores are permitted — roughly the number of liquor stores operating before privatization — Snohomish County could be home to between 30 and 37 pot shops, according to a June report prepared by the state’s consultant, BOTEC.

If only 200 are allowed statewide, the county could be home for between 19 and 22. For comparison, there were 25 state-owned and contract liquor stores in the county before privatization.

The report also estimates how far someone might have to travel to find a pot store. With 200 stores, users would, on average, find themselves living within six miles of the nearest retailer.

After the revised rules are filed, the state will hold a public hearing Oct. 9. Final approval would come a week later and the rules taking effect Nov. 18.

That same day the state would begin accepting applications for three types of licenses — growing, processing into products like brownies, and selling through a retail outlet.

Applications for all three would be accepted for 30 days. The state is not setting a limit on licenses for producing and processing marijuana.

“There should be room for everyone,” Smith said.

The state doesn’t expect to limit the number of retail licenses, he said. If more people apply than the number of available locations in an area, the state would hold some form of a lottery to award licenses.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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