September 6, 2013 in City

Shawn Vestal: Pot law’s melding of cultures psychedelic

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Shawn Vestal
(Full-size photo)

It’s fascinating and amusing to watch as Washington tries to heave marijuana over the line from technically illegal to legal, and from disreputable to technically reputable.

It is a marriage of two worlds that have not, heretofore, collided. The world of the bong and the world of the bureaucrat. The shaggy black market and the uptight realm of subsections and permit variances. A lot of us have felt for a long time that there is no sense whatever – no legal, economic or ethical sense – in pot prohibition. And yet the emergence of the first batch of state rules for a marijuana market struck me, initially, as simply hard to believe.

Can these worlds co-exist? Can government transform the marijuana market from a guy who knows a guy to “a tightly controlled and regulated marijuana market; including strict controls to prevent diversion, illegal sales, and sales to minors; and providing reasonable access to products to mitigate the illicit market.”

And, if so, how long will it be before, deep in the bowels of the Costco headquarters, some forward-thinking soul begins considering the citizens initiative that will eventually bring bales of stanky weed to the aisles of your local grocery?

For now, the state Liquor Control Board is making the rules that will govern the pot economy, and it is surely a strange endeavor. This is not necessarily because this is undoable: It’s never been done and is hard to foresee. But the board is foreseeing it in great detail.

The Liquor Control Board will set up a system for growing, processing and selling pot under the initiative voters passed last year. The rules are not final, and the public will have a chance to weigh in, including at a yet-to-be-scheduled Spokane hearing in the coming weeks.

The proposed rules call for a maximum of 334 retail stores around the state. The tri-county area of King, Snohomish and Pierce could have as many as 127 potmarts. There will be 18 retail licenses available in Spokane County, about as many as there are McDonald’s. Eight will be in the city of Spokane, three in Spokane Valley, and seven are “at large” locations.

The retailers must keep the actual weed behind the counter, though “sniff jars with sealed, screened-top lids” will be allowed for discriminating customers. Child-resistant packaging will be required, and said packaging will be required to include the following: THC content, net weight, warning label, lot number – and serving size!

The stores must have alarm and security systems, including regulations on the minimum pixels for security cameras. They may not locate – or advertise – within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, arcades or other places where kids are present. And, speaking of advertising, it may not “contain statements or illustrations that are false or misleading, promotes overconsumption, represents that it has curative or therapeutic effects, depicts a child or may be appealing to children.”

It must also contain two statements: “a: This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming. And, b) Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”

And where will this come from, this legal pot? The state foresees up to 2 million square feet of pot-growing space. Licensed growers will exist in three “tiers” – ranging from small operations of less than 2,000 square feet to larger ones of between 10,000 and 30,000 square feet. The average square footage of a Western home is not quite 2,400, according to the Census Bureau.

On and on go the rules. Background checks for all licenses. How much marijuana will be allowed at a time at any grower, processor or retailer – plant material and finished product. The cost of licenses, from $250 application fees to a $1,000 annual renewal. Plans for a “robust and comprehensive traceability system,” from seed to sale.

Who will enter this brave new world? Will those who have operated in the shadows simply go legit? Will businesspeople – horticulturalists, packagers, entrepreneurs seeking a niche – who have never been involved in the seedy illegal drug business now leap in with enthusiasm?

By next summer, officials say, legal marijuana could be for sale in Washington state. We wanted it, and we’re getting it.

Even if it still seems more than a little hard to imagine.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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