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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Cheech and Chong would be shocked by these legislative proposals that show how mainstream marijuana is becoming

Ashley Green trims a marijuana flower Jan. 13, 2015, at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Ashley Green trims a marijuana flower Jan. 13, 2015, at the Pioneer Production and Processing marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Wash. (Associated Press)

Readers of a certain age may remember a routine by Cheech and Chong from the early 1970s about a day in the future when marijuana is so legal that it could be packaged with a marketable name like “Acapulco Gold Filters” and advertised in commercials with a catchy jingle.

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Washington voters leading the nation in legalizing recreational marijuana, there are no radios playing the 2022 equivalent to “no stems no seeds that you don’t need…” But there are developments in bringing legal marijuana into the mainstream that the two comedians who made a mint out of “stoner” humor would never have believed.

One bill that received a hearing in a House committee last week was a proposal to create a special type of license for “craft” marijuana growers. This seems like a very Washington sort of proposal. The state, after all, pioneered the now-thriving craft distillery business, which was patterned after a thriving craft brewery business and the state’s wineries that pushed for tasting rooms to exhibit their wares.

Washington marijuana laws currently separate the licenses for people who grow the plant or process it into consumable products from the stores that sell it. A licensed grower can obtain a license to become a processor, and a processor can get a license to grow his or her own, but neither can get a license to set up a shop, and a retailer can’t legally grow or process. The number of retail stores is strictly controlled in the state.

The craft marijuana license would allow growers of a certain size to sell their products in a shop on their property.

The hearing in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee was an example of just how far the legal marijuana industry has come. Some people worried about distribution and logistics. Others lamented taxes or prices. Others wanted Washington to maintain its current place in the national market.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Emily Wicks, D-Marysville, worried about the state marijuana businesses suffering if the industry went so national that “the Wal-Mart of Cannabis” were to move into Washington.

The industry not only has lobbyists, but an array of trade organizations with different views on the proposal.

The Cannabis Alliance was all in favor. So was the Alliance for Sensible Markets.

Shane Elliott, a medical marijuana grower from Lewis County, said the craft license should only go to those who use organic farming techniques.

The Washington Cannabusiness Association liked the concept but thought it was too broad because it could cover most of the state’s large growers, as well as the small operations. Just as craft distilleries are limited in the amount of liquor they produce, craft marijuana licenses should go to smaller growers, said the group’s lobbyist, Vickie Christophersen. And rather than direct sales on small farms far from the cities, a lower sales tax or business and occupation tax might be a bigger help, she said.

The bill is scheduled for a vote later this week in the committee and has a way to go to become law. It will also compete for attention with other bills involving marijuana, including one to stop calling it marijuana, at least in state law.

During the same hearing, the committee passed a bill that would change the word “marijuana” to “cannabis” anywhere it appears in the Revised Code of Washington and state administrative rules. While this may have old stoners like Cheech and Chong scratching their heads, Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, said the m-word is “racist terminology” and changing it to the more scientific term of cannabis would be a step toward “healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and brown people.”

The bill passed the House last year but didn’t get a vote in the Senate, so it’s getting another shot.

The Legislature also will take another run at ensuring minorities have a better shot at getting those limited state marijuana licenses as a way of balancing the scales for higher rates of arrests and conviction of minorities for breaking the old marijuana laws.

Perhaps the best example of the mainstreaming of marijuana, however, are proposals in the House and Senate to create a State Cannabis Commission. This is not to be confused with the State Liquor and Control Board, which regulates the industry. The commission would support and advance the industry, enhance production and improve its sustainability “to benefit the people of the state … and its economy.”

It would be just like the State Grain Commission, the State Apple Commission, the State Red Raspberry Commission, the State Fruit Commission, the State Hay Growers Commission, the State Wine Commission and more than a dozen other groups that help develop Washington’s other cash crops.

The new commission might even come up with a catchy jingle for the state’s recreational product, if they can come up with a rhyme for cannabis.

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