The Washington State Liquor Control Board is forging ahead in its new role creating access to legalized marijuana. Next, the board will issue a request for consultants to gauge pot consumption in Washington state.
Under Initiative 502, possessing marijuana for recreational use is already legal. The Liquor Control Board now must create a structure for people to legally grow and sell it.
The first step is a system to license marijuana growers. These people will ultimately supply state-licensed marijuana stores. Liquor Control spokesman Brian Smith said the job of the marijuana licensing manager is open until filled. “I think we’re up to about 70 applications in the first couple weeks, so I think they’ll be sorting through those applications and starting to line up some interviews,” he said.
The next hire for the agency will be a consultant to try to figure out how much marijuana Washington state residents will likely buy. The state’s Office of Financial Management estimated that 363,000 people will consume marijuana in Washington this year.
Smith says the new consultant will study the issue in greater depth. One thing the state doesn’t want to do is issue too many licenses and create a marijuana glut. “Where’s that commodity going to go? It’s clearly out there and it can be transported out of the state or other places where people will want to buy it on the illegal market,” said Smith.
State legislators are also worried about that. Three Democratic representatives including Ross Hunter of Medina sent a letter to the Liquor Control Board last week asking the agency to slow down. Hunter said he’d first like to get more clarification on how federal officials will react to Washington’s regulatory scheme, given that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the US Attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about this,” Hunter said, “and we’re about to license people to commit a felony.”
Hunter said the new system leaves state employees and others vulnerable to prosecution. His letter also said the agency should not be diverting money that was meant for other purposes into marijuana regulation. Hunter says if federal officials shut down that system, all the money could get wasted. In addition, Hunter said people who write initiatives often do so to make money and he doesn’t want the state to become complicit in allowing criminal activity.
“We just want to make sure that we are, in fact, doing something that’s reasonable and not something that either creates this corporate behemoth or recreates the days of Al Capone,” he said. To that end, Hunter wants the control board to create a tracking system, to make sure licensed growers aren’t sending their product out of state.
The board says it plans to charge a $1,000 licensing fee for marijuana growers, processors and sellers. The legislators say the state should charge much more, given the profits producers stand to reap.