OLYMPIA – Washington may soon quadruple the amount of land where legal marijuana can be grown.
The state Liquor Control Board is considering a series of changes to its recreational marijuana rules, and one of them would increase the allowable land for the legal pot to rise to 8.5 million square feet, up from the 2 million square-foot limit established last year when the system was set up.
That doesn’t mean recreational marijuana will overtake the state’s other cash crops like wheat, peas, lentils or apples any time soon; 8.5 million square feet is only about 195 acres. . .
. . . Becky Smith, the agency's marijuana licensing and regulations manager, told the board Wednesday staff already have licensed growers to plant on nearly 3 million square feet of land, although all of the licensed land isn’t in production at one time. The state has licensed more than 260 growers, but not all are operating yet, she said. Some are in counties that have a moratorium on marijuana businesses and some Eastern Washington licensees plan to grow outdoors, where the planting season is past.
Most growers also are licensed to process their marijuana, meaning they can dry and package it or in some cases mix it with other ingredients to make edible products.
As of this week, the state had licensed 68 marijuana stores, although only 53 are reporting sales, Smith said. Supply problems have been common since the first stores opened in July, but those could ease at the end of this month when outdoor growers harvest their crops.
Increasing the limits on land for recreational marijuana is something the board has expected for months, and isn’t a response to any recent surge in demand. It’s part of a long list of changes the board will consider through the end of the year, and may have in place by next January. Other changes would affect rules for labeling, processing, additional items that retailers can sell and penalties for violating rules.
The Legislature may need to work out a different numeric problem with recreational marijuana laws if it doesn’t want charges dismissed against some suspected offenders.
Ingrid Dearmore, an analyst from the State Patrol Crime lab, told the liquor board it currently licenses edible marijuana products in a way that, under state law, they technically are not marijuana. The problem involves a difference with state law, which says anything that contains more than .3 percent THC – or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in the plant – is marijuana. Anything below that isn't. Agency rules use a different standard and say an edible product may not have more than 10 milligrams of THC in a single dose.
“You’re looking at milligrams, the law is looking at percentages,” she said. In the past, it didn’t matter because any amount of THC in the product was illegal.
Ten milligrams spread over some edible products such as a large brownie or a bottle of marijuana-infused soda could be less than .3 percent of the total volume, Dearmore said. Prosecutors might have trouble making drug possession charges stick against minors, who under the law aren't allowed to use recreational marijuana, if they are caught with those items.
Based on the descriptions on a website, about three-fourths of the edible products and two-thirds of the marijuana-laced liquids approved by the agency wouldn’t reach the .3 percent standard, she said.
The board said it might seek the state patrol’s help in proposing a change to the law next year.