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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Legislative bills show the mainstreaming of marijuana

Cinder budtender Jacquelyne Hofstad restocks product at the company’s retail store on North Division Street, Friday, March 27, 2020.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

When Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana a little more than 10 years ago, people of a certain age wondered about the switch from the realm of “Dazed and Confused” to the brave new world of state-sponsored and state-regulated pot.

Probably no one could have imagined how far government intervention might come as we start our second decade.

In the Legislature this session, we see some of the standard proposals, such as whether people should be able to “grow their own” at home, and if so, how much and with what restrictions. Are six plants enough? Do they have to be out of public view? Is the home too close to a school or being used as a day care?

These soon may be debated on the same floors where previous legislatures debated how much punishment to give people engaged in that activity.

Also under consideration is whether to change Initiative 502’s clear direction that people who hold a Washington license to grow, process or sell marijuana must be, like, you know, Washington residents.

The original law also limited the amount of plants they could grow or the number of storefronts they could own. Voters were sold a vision of keeping the drug cartels – and perhaps the even more nefarious Big Tobacco – out of the state’s fledgling marijuana industry by having the equivalent of mom-and-pop growers selling to mom-and-pop pot shops.

It wasn’t long before the market got lucrative enough for out-of-state investors to covet. The Senate is considering a bill that would allow anyone to apply for a state marijuana license, and the company need not be formed under state law.

Supporters said they need to look outside the state to find “angel investors,” and the change would allow the industry to “break out of the incubator stage and spread its wings.” Plus, it could lead to more sales, which equals more revenue for the state, and is always an attractive argument in Olympia. Opponents are warning that family marijuana farms might be wiped out by corporate marijuana like their more traditional counterparts were by corporate agriculture.

Lawmakers also are considering whether to set up a Cannabis Commission under the Washington State Department of Agriculture, similar to state commissions on apples, wheat, hops or wine. A baker’s dozen of licensed marijuana growers would work with the department to help boost the industry with research and “advance knowledge and production” of the plant.

A dozen years ago, people engaged in growing marijuana would be put in prison in an effort to make them stop. Now, the state wants to put them on a commission in an effort to make them grow more and better marijuana. There may be nothing that says “mainstream” more.

Finding someone selling marijuana – once primarily relegated to knowing a guy who knows a guy who has a source, or finding a likely spot and hinting about one’s interest to a stranger one hoped was not an undercover cop – continues to be a bone of contention between state and local officials.

A bill sent to the full House would take the regulation of signage for marijuana stores away from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board and turn it over to local authorities. Based on the range of acceptance to legal marijuana around the state, one might see large marquees with flashing lights in some locales and signage the size of a postage stamp in others.

Another bill is designed to regulate the labeling of marijuana products, particularly those with high levels of the most active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. Such rules are no doubt welcome for the discerning consumer, but must come as a shock to those who originally bought their products with no more than the assurance that it was “really good stuff, man.”

The House could vote soon on a bill that would make it illegal to sell drinks that contain alcohol and THC. Mixing the two the normal way, through separate intakes, is known to be dangerous, as one should not mix two depressants.

The legislation, however, seems at best a proactive strike and at worst a bit of fear mongering.

Alcohol infused with THC is illegal under federal law, and the closest anyone seems to come right now is an alcohol-free, THC-infused sauvignon blanc from a winery in Northern California that seems to seek a consumer niche to combine the taste of the grape plus the euphoria of the weed, minus the hangover of the alcohol.

One proposal seems to make marijuana usage so mainstream it might shock even Cheech and Chong.

The full House has been sent a bill that would allow people with so-called short-term rentals, like bed and breakfasts or vacation home rentals, to offer their adult guests a free prerolled marijuana cigarette. There’s a limit of 1 gram of pot per joint, so it would eliminate fat doobies and Backwoods blunts.

The bill is designed to keep parity with another proposal under consideration to allow such establishments to offer guests a complimentary bottle of wine. Both would require the owner of the property to obtain a license with an annual fee of $75.

Before passing the bill along, the House Committee on Regulated Substance and Gaming – which might be considered the committee on stuff people do that’s arguably bad for them – tweaked it to expand the allowable freebie to include a THC-infused edible or beverage, under the theory that some places might want to stay “smoke-free.”

Bailey Hirschberg, of Washington’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the committee that other states are more hospitable places for marijuana tourism.

“We’re losing out on a huge amount of tourism and economic engagement,” said Hirschberg, who suggested the state should require renters to provide their guests with information on where one can and cannot consume recreational marijuana in Washington.

“We don’t want to put a joint in their hands and have them think they can go out on the streets or in our parks,” he said.