In one of the biggest turnouts in the state, more than 450 people packed the state Liquor Control Board’s public forum Tuesday night in Spokane to talk about Washington’s baby steps into the world of state-sanctioned sales of recreational marijuana.
The clearly supportive crowd at the Spokane Convention Center mostly raised objections to what’s perceived as the bureaucratic red tape set out by Initiative 502, which was approved by 55 percent of state voters and directs authorities to establish a system of production, distribution and sales of marijuana to people older than 21.
“It could be the next American industry,” said Ryan Park, of San Francisco, explaining that he has backers ready to support a marijuana store in Spokane. “We could be the country that smoked its way out of debt.”
However, several speakers pleaded with the Liquor Control Board members to ensure that limitations remain in place on advertising.
“I know we joke tonight, but we don’t want our kids using marijuana,” said Martina Coordes, vice president of the Washington State Coalition of Coalitions. “I worry that I’ll be watching the Super Bowl commercials with Budweiser and marijuana companies competing for the funniest ones. Our kids are our future. Let’s not dumb up our kids.”
Liquor Control Board Director Pat Kohler said the fourth in a series of forums throughout the state was designed, at the suggestion of Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, to engage those in the business early in the process before the state finalizes the rulemaking.
The new law allows people to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but it has nothing to do with existing law – originally passed in 1998 – that provides for the legal sale under state law of marijuana for medical purposes.
The wild card remains federal officials. In Western Washington, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan has not prosecuted medical marijuana dispensaries that operate under the letter of the state law.
In Eastern Washington, however, U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby directed agents to raid or send letters that shut down more than 40 dispensaries in the Spokane area. Nearly a dozen are again operating in hopes that the passage of Initiative 502 will convince federal law enforcement to look the other way.
Kohler said the board met with Ormsby this week, and he repeated earlier hopes to soon announce how federal officials will react to the law. Kohler said the state needs to receive that word sometime this summer or growers will not have enough time to produce the first marijuana that will be available in state-sanctioned stores on Dec. 1.
“We are the first in the world to have a fully legalized system” to sell marijuana, said Chris Marr, a board member from Spokane. “You are part of that process. This is democracy at its best.”
But that process still has tons of questions, based on comments from board members and community speakers.
Leonard Browning, of Priest River, called himself “an over-the-hill hippie.”
“We had a saying back then: Don’t panic if it’s organic,” Browning said. “Every sheriff should stand up to the feds and say, ‘Stay out.’ Those herbs are here for our benefit and we should be allowed to use it.”