OLYMPIA – Sometime in the next year, Washington residents will be able to walk into a store and buy legal marijuana. Will that store be like Nordstrom, Wal-Mart or a mom-and-pop grocery?
That question surfaced Tuesday in a legislative hearing, although it couldn’t be answered. The State Liquor Control Board, which is tasked by Initiative 502 with setting up the system to regulate growth, processing and sales of legal marijuana, announced early in the day it had just hired consultants to help set up that system.
The House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee meanwhile looked at ways to change the initiative’s rules on where a store can be located and how much a license costs.
Bill Brouillet, spokesman for potential retailer Diego Pellicer Inc., said that company supports reducing the distances a store must be from parks, playgrounds and some other facilities. I-502 says it must be 1,000 feet away, but House Bill 2000 would drop that to 500 feet for everything but schools. Under current restrictions, it would be difficult to open a store in most parts of Seattle and Bellevue, Brouillet said.
Diego Pellicer wants to be a premium retailer of marijuana, he said, offering an experience for its customers like Nordstrom offers for customers buying clothes. It wants to offer good-quality product and dependable consistency at all of its stores. It also supports letting the board charge higher fees for licenses in certain markets.
“We’re not an evil out-of-state corporation,” Brouillet said. According to its website, Kirkland-based Diego Pellicer’s founder and chief executive officer, Jamen Shively, is a former Microsoft corporate strategy manager.
But setting high fees will lead to something medical marijuana proponents feared would happen with I-502, said critic Arthur West – “Wal-Mart style marketing and big government regulation.”
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, the sponsor of the bill, said some proposed rules are a way to keep people who have operated illegally in the past out of the new market. When Prohibition ended, the government didn’t let Al Capone into the new liquor market, he said.
But it did let bootleggers in if they promised to obey the law, said Alison Holcomb, the author of the initiative. Setting a high price for the right to sell marijuana could mean the new industry will be dominated by large corporations that will look for ways to market to teens, the way alcohol and tobacco companies have done, she said.
Smaller operations, which may now be growing illegally, shouldn’t be closed out, she said. “Let mom and pop have a shot at it.”
Any changes to I-502 would need to pass both houses of the Legislature with a two-thirds majority. Hurst said it’s still being revised and won’t even come out of the committee unless it has near-unanimous support.