State sets rules for marijuana industry

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Liquor Control Board laid out its rules Wednesday for overseeing a legal marijuana industry in which every gram of pot sold can be traced back to the seed from which it was grown.

On a unanimous vote, the three-member panel approved 42 pages of detailed policies and regulations encompassing nearly every aspect of growing, processing and selling marijuana to adults for recreational use as soon as this winter.

Board members expressed confidence the rules put tight controls on the market to prevent dope from getting into the hands of minors too easily, transported outside the state or sold illegally by drug traffickers.

“We have no intention of having this well-regulated system fail,” said board chairwoman Sharon Foster.

One thing missing from all those rules: a logo that the state will require to be put on every retail product. The image they had been using of a marijuana leaf imposed on a state map didn’t go over well with the public or the governor.

“The governor found it a little bit not consistent with the conditions of the Evergreen State, which is known for its Western hemlocks and glaciers and mountains rather than a particular leaf,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. “We’d like to maintain our state image.”

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.

Washington will allow individuals to have up to an ounce of dried marijuana; 16 ounces of a pot-infused solid, such as brownies; or 72 ounces of a pot-infused liquid, such as tea.

The state is not proposing to limit the number of licenses for growing pot and making marijuana products but will cap the number of retailers statewide.

One of the biggest changes from draft rules released in May is growing operations will be allowed outdoors as well as indoors. Regardless of location, the operations must be shielded from view of passersby and monitored with surveillance cameras that can produce pictures of a minimum resolution quality.

A linchpin for the program is the “seed-to-store” system for tracking marijuana, which is intended to prevent the diverting of legal pot into the illegal market. Growers, processors and retailers will be required to inform the state of any marijuana shipments, and to keep records on the source of seeds, when plants are harvested and destroyed.

Other rules ban advertising aimed at minors and bars ads outside the state. Stores may market themselves on billboards, in newspaper ads and even the Internet.

There are requirements for child-proof packaging of marijuana-infused products and hours of operations for retailers will be 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. That’s two hours less than the May version.

The agency will be collecting comments on the rules for several weeks and plans public hearings next month in Seattle, Olympia, Ellensburg and Spokane.

Board members are scheduled to adopt the rules Aug. 14 and applications for producing, processing and retailing licenses will be accepted starting Sept. 16. Licenses will be issued in December and the first sales could occur in late winter or next spring.

Washington is marching ahead amid uncertainty about the federal government’s intentions and unanswered questions on how many will sell marijuana and whether anyone will buy it.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and the Department of Justice could sue to try to block Washington and Colorado from carrying out their respective initiatives.

Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson have met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and kept his staff informed of the state’s rule-making process.

“We have no additional information from the federal government so we’re moving forward,” Inslee said. “We are moving forward with a very well-regulated, a very disciplined, and a very well thought-out suite of rules to make sure this is done the right way.”

The board is also waiting on its consulting experts to provide estimates of how much marijuana will be consumed and where sales will most likely occur in the state.

Those figures will be used to decide the number of retailers to be permitted in each county. That information should be known before next month’s public hearings, said Randy Simmons, deputy director for the state agency.

Under the proposed rules, the state isn’t looking to limit the number of licenses issued to grow pot and make products. Members are wary of winding up with too much dope and not enough customers.

They acknowledged Wednesday the state-regulated businesses will be competing with the unregulated medical marijuana industry and illicit drug trade for customers.

“I think our system will be successful,” said board member Chris Marr. But the question is with a well-regulated market “what percentage of the marketplace will you capture?”

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

What’s next

Here’s what’s next in Washington’s creation of a legal marijuana industry:

  • Aug. 6-8: Public hearings on proposed rules in Seattle, Olympia, Ellensburg and Spokane
  • Aug. 14: Liquor Control Board to consider adoption of the rules
  • Sept. 16: Rules take effect and 30-day window opens for applications for producer, processor and retailer licenses.
  • December-January: Board begins issuing licenses

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