OLYMPIA – Two of the three members of the state board that oversees Washington’s liquor and marijuana laws will step down early next year.
That includes Chris Marr, a former Spokane businessman and state senator, who is resigning in January to take a position as a lobbyist. And 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.
Marr will be a lobbyist for Group Health Cooperative and a large scrap metal company.
He’s open to representing other clients but said, “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.
A spokesman for Inslee, who will nominate new board members subject to state Senate approval, said the office already is 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 past 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. Although the board has been especially busy for the past 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 make about $50,800 a year.
In the past two years, board members and agency executives were regularly before legislative committees, testifying on a wide range of bills that looked to change 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.
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