WA Kicks Off Public Hearings On Marijuana Business

By Amy Radil

Tuesday in Olympia, the Washington State Liquor Control Board kicks off a series of public hearings around the state. The board is seeking public input on how to create a legal, taxed distribution system for marijuana. Budding members of the new marijuana economy say… they’ll be there.

Under Initiative 502, the Washington state Liquor Control Board must create a state-licensed system to sell legal marijuana. The number of available licenses is still in flux.

Seattle lawyer Hilary Bricken runs the Cannabis Business Group. They are lobbying on behalf of marijuana producers.  She expects members of the public to have concerns about lots of new marijuana stores popping up. And that could affect how many retail licenses the board grants.

Bricken: “The reason why I think retail is going to be limited is because of the social stigma surrounding retailing. Nothing else. But even that number could increase if they find out in Spokane over 50% of the population really wants their cannabis.”

Spokane provides a counterexample to Seattle’s flourishing medical marijuana scene. In Spokane, law enforcement closed down all the dispensaries in 2011. But Initiative 502 passed in Spokane County, and that has emboldened some marijuana distributors to set up shop once again.

Green: “I intend to follow the letter of the law and be a picture of compliance.”

Sean Green runs Pacific Northwest Medical, which just opened a medical marijuana “access point” in Spokane earlier this month. He met with city officials, and feels confident that if he follows state law he’ll be allowed to stay open. Green hopes to get a retail license from the state once they’re available.

Green: “I’ve secured the real estate, that’s one of the most difficult aspects of it. So from there, it’s a matter of monitoring this rulemaking process, finding out what we can and can’t do, and adjusting from there.”

Green says he’ll be at the public hearing tonight in Olympia. He’s moving ahead on the assumption that the state will implement I-502. But marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Attorney Hilary Bricken says amidst the uncertainty, she advises her clients to follow state laws and not to do anything flashy.
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