Input on pot regulation sought

Public is invited to advise state board in Vancouver this week

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Public Meeting

What: Public forum on Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana for adults age 21 and older, to answer questions and take public testimony on how the initiative will be implemented.

When: 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Foster Auditorium, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.

Online: Visit http://columbian.com on Thursday for live coverage of the meeting.

A public forum on Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults, will be Thursday at Clark College.

The forum, which will include time for public testimony, will be hosted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. That agency has been tasked with implementing the desire of voters who believe adults should be able to toke in the privacy of their home and be able to carry an ounce of marijuana -- or 16 ounces of a marijuana-infused product in solid form (think brownies) or 72 ounces of a marijuana-infused product in liquid form -- in public without fear of arrest.

The forum starts at 6 p.m. with an open house, where the public can meet members of the Liquor Control Board and their staff.

At 7 p.m., after introductions and a brief overview, the board members will take public input for consideration as the members develop policies for implementing the law.

The Liquor Control Board has hosted marijuana forums in Seattle and Olympia, and has forums scheduled for Spokane, Mount Vernon and Yakima.

Under I-502, the agency can establish rules regarding production, processing and sales. The board members will also decide how many retail outlets will be allowed, and how many licenses will be granted for marijuana producers, processors and retailers.

The fee for each license will be $250, with an $1,000 annual renewal fee.

Retail licenses are scheduled to become active on Dec. 1.

"Clearly, there is passion about what Washington's system of legal marijuana will look like when fully implemented," Board Chair Sharon Foster said in a statement released in January. "This is an opportunity for the public to meet the board and staff involved in implementation, learn about our role in implementation, and to provide testimony. We appreciate the cooperation of the Association of Washington Cities for their help in arranging these forums."

City asks about taxes

The subject of legalizing marijuana came up during last week's Vancouver City Council meeting during councilor communications,

when Jeanne Harris and Jeanne Stewart expressed concern about how it will impact the city. Particularly since, as Stewart noted, Oregon residents in pursuit of pot will be coming north.

"We have enough capacity on the Interstate 5 bridge now," said Stewart, having to pause for laughter. "But traffic isn't my big concern about this. Trafficking is a big concern. That's not the community we want to have here in Vancouver."

Said Harris: "I think we need to be out in front on this thing."

City Manager Eric Holmes reassured council members that they have made it clear that I-502 needs to be closely tracked.

City Attorney Ted Gathe said the city's lobbyist in Olympia, Mark Brown, will be giving input as rules are drafted.

Councilors asked about what revenues the city can expect from taxing sales of marijuana.

Gathe explained that the initiative created three new excise taxes (equal to 25 percent of the selling price) to be paid at the time of production, processing and sales. Those excise in addition to any other applicable general, state and local sales and use taxes, Gathe said.

The end of state-run liquor stores meant the end of revenue sharing from the sales of alcohol, and some officials have questioned whether marijuana sales will make up for the loss.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart asked if the city could impose an additional local sales tax on marijuana, over and above the general sales tax levied on retail sales, to help with enforcement costs.

"I realize that's a real slippery slope," she said, acknowledging it was an odd question for someone "who is always saying, 'Don't tack taxes on everything.'"

Gathe said a higher tax rate would have to be authorized by the state.


Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.