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Lawmakers get responses to questions on marijuana

State Liquor Control Board officials speak to Senate panel

OLYMPIA – In legalizing marijuana last fall, voters created more questions for the Legislature, not fewer.

Some, including how the federal government is going to react, can’t be answered yet, officials from the State Liquor Control Board told a Senate committee Monday.

Law and Justice Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he’s heard concerns that any revenue the state collects from taxes on marijuana could be seized under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, statutes, because possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

He asked if that is possible.

Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson are in Washington, D.C., this week discussing federal conflicts with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“All we can do is press the governor and the attorney general to press the federal government for a response,” said Rick Garza, the control board’s deputy director.

It’s also not possible to determine whether Washington will get a “tourist boost” from being one of only two states that legalizes private marijuana use for adults, Garza said. “I don’t know how we would do that.”

Some questions can be answered, however. Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, asked if cities or counties could pass ordinances against marijuana use, like “dry” counties after Prohibition ended.

No, Garza said. But they could put tight controls on marijuana operations through zoning.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, asked if stores like Costco will have rows of marijuana choices, like they have rows of liquor choices now that private stores can sell distilled spirits.

No, because marijuana can only be sold in stand-alone stores that only allow adults to enter, the way liquor stores used to be, Garza said.

Padden asked if marijuana could be sold in a vending machine. No, again, control board director Pat Kohler said, because sales have to be to adults.

“We don’t even sell alcohol in a vending machine,” she said.

Couldn’t the state cut out some of the bureaucracy of having separate rules and licensing for growers, processors and retailers, Sen. Adam Kline asked. No, said Garza: “That’s the way it’s written in the initiative.”

“How are you going to label the amount of active ingredients?” Carrell asked.

The board is working with the Department of Agriculture to develop that system, Kohler said. Marijuana sold legally in the state will be labeled for its potency.

“I kind of wish that had been around 30 years ago,” Kline said.

Where will the state get advice and help on various topics, members of the panel asked. The board is holding public forums around the state, including one in Spokane on Feb. 12 in the City Council Chambers; it has 3,000 people who have signed up for an online notification system and received hundreds of suggestions by email or regular mail. The new law has also created a small economic boom for lobbyists, said Sharon Foster, chairwoman of the board.

If Colorado, the other state that legalized marijuana in the November election, changes its state song to “Rocky Mountain High,” Roach asked, should Washington change its to “Roll on, Columbia”?

Board members didn’t weigh in on that one. But it should be noted that Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on, Columbia” is already Washington’s state folk song.

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