OLYMPIA – Washington should revise its proposed rules to grow and sell recreational marijuana and delay adopting them by a couple of months, the staff of a state board recommended Tuesday.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board was scheduled to vote today on the final rules needed to begin setting up the legal marijuana industry called for in last year’s successful voter initiative. But less than 24 hours before the meeting, the board’s staff urged a rewrite of the rules that would be significant enough to require more review and at least one more public hearing.
Among the rules the staff proposes adding are limits on the total production of legal marijuana in the state and the number of stores where the drug could be sold.
The agency held a series of hearings around the state last week on its proposed rules, which are the second draft of regulations to cover an industry that has for years operated outside the law.
Brian Smith, a spokesman for the agency, said limits on production and retail outlets are details potential licensees would want to know before applying later this year.
No other state or country has established such detailed rules for legal recreational marijuana businesses, and the liquor board hired a consulting firm to help with its process. The firm estimated the legal marijuana would capture about one fifth of the current market, or about 33 metric tons. The “optimal” allocation of stores around the state would be about 200, the firm said, divided among the counties based in part on estimates of the number of marijuana users in each.
The staff recommended that the new rules be filed for public review by Sept. 4, with at least one more public hearing in early October. The new rules would be adopted Oct. 16, become effective one month later, and the state would begin accepting applications for licenses on Nov. 18 for a 30-day period.
That would allow the agency to comply with one condition of Initiative 502: that rules be in place by Dec. 1.
The board already revised the proposed rules once, in early July, which prompted a one-month review and five hearings held last week, including one at the Spokane Convention Center. The proposed rules received a wide range of comments and criticism over everything from the need for a full environmental impact statement to the amount of taxes to be collected. Some witnesses questioned whether the state was favoring large corporate producers over small growers.
The Cannabis Action Coalition, a political organization which has criticized the agency for not studying the possible environmental impacts of growing marijuana, contended it will not be the last delay the board will need. Steve Sarich of the coalition predicted the agency will need to file an environmental impact statement to comply with state environmental laws, which could delay the process by another year or two.
Smith said, however, he knew of no plans to recommend the agency drop its “determination of nonsignificance” for environmental effects of the rules.