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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pot-growing acreage could quadruple

In this June 25, 2014 photo, a ladybug crawls on a marijuana plant at Sea of Green Farms, a recreational pot grower in Seattle. (Ted Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Washington may soon more than quadruple the amount of land where legal marijuana can be grown.

The state Liquor Control Board is considering changes to its recreational marijuana rules, and one of them would increase the allowable land for legal pot 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 anytime 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 that staff already had 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 more than 260 licensed growers, but not all have started 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.

As of this week, the state had licensed 68 marijuana stores with 53 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 January. Other changes would affect rules for labeling, processing, additional items that retailers can sell and penalties for violating rules.

In addition, the Legislature may need to reconcile state law with liquor board rules, if it doesn’t want charges dismissed against some suspected offenders.

Ingrid Dearmore, an analyst from the Washington State Patrol crime lab, told the liquor board that state law says anything that contains more than 0.3 percent THC – or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in the plant – is marijuana. Liquor board 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, the dichotomy didn’t exist because any amount of THC made the product illegal.

Ten milligrams spread over some edible products such as a large brownie or a bottle of marijuana-infused soda could be less than 0.3 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.