OLYMPIA – Two of the three members of the state board that oversees Washington’s liquor and marijuana laws will step down early next year.
Chairwoman Sharon Foster has informed Gov. Jay Inslee that she will not accept a reappointment to the Liquor Control Board when her term expires in January, and former state Sen. Chris Marr said he is leaving that month to take a position as a lobbyist. . .
. . . A spokesman for Inslee, who will nominate new board members who must be confirmed by the state Senate, said the office is already considering replacements for the positions and has heard from people who are interested.
“But it is a lot of work,” Inslee spokesman David Postman said.
That’s been particularly true in the last three years. In November 2011, voters decided to remove the state’s monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales, and the board oversaw the privatization of the former government system. A year later, voters legalized marijuana for recreational use, putting the board in charge of regulating the growing, processing and retail sales operations.
Those businesses began receiving licenses last spring and the first recreational marijuana stores in Washington opened in July. The state currently has 290 licensed producers, 249 licensed processors and 83 licensed retailers, although not all are operating yet.
Foster is out of the office this week and not available to comment, an agency spokesman said. Marr said the agency still has “quite a bit going on,” but that he’s decided to step down to take be a lobbyist for Group Health Cooperative and a large scrap metal company.
He’s open to representing other clients, but added “I have no plans to work either for liquor or marijuana clients.”
Marr frequently gives speeches and presentations on the process the state developed for recreational marijuana and said he might consult with other states that have recently legalized the drug. “We thought all along the Washington system could be a template for other states,” he said.
Although the board has been especially busy for the last three years, board members no longer receive full-time pay. A budget reduction last decade cut the pay of many board positions and that didn’t change despite the increased workload from voters. Board members currently make about $50,800 a year.
In the last two years, board members and agency executives were regularly before legislative committees, testifying on a wide range of bills that looked at changes to the new recreational marijuana laws and considering a possible merger with the largely unregulated medical marijuana system.
While legislators have signaled they will have new proposals in the coming session, Marr said he doesn’t think the agency will have to be as involved in the discussions.
“I think the industry is going to be bringing forth its own advocacy,” he said.
PHOTO CAPTION: Members of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, front to back, Ruthann Kurose, Sharon Foster, and Chris Marr, listen to testimony during a public forum on the implementation of I-502 held Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in the Spokane Convention Center. Photo by COLIN MULVANY colinm@sp