State looks to manage marijuana

Clear, strict controls seen as way to prevent federal action

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The Washington State Liquor Control Board will have a public forum on the implementation of Initiative 502, 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 7 at Clark College.

Attendees can meet staff members involved with I-502 and get updated on the process. From 7:15 to 10 p.m., the public can offer comments for the board to consider as it develops rules.

The forum is one of six scheduled around the state through Feb. 21. For email updates on the board’s I-502 rulemaking process, register at http://liq.wa.gov.

OLYMPIA — Washington officials are working to build a strictly regulated marijuana system that could forestall federal concerns about how the drug will be handled once it's available for public purchase.

Rick Garza of the Washington Liquor Control Board said Monday he expects the federal government will try to take action if Washington's system has loose controls. He said it's important for Washington to have a strong regulatory structure, such as how participants in the system are licensed and how the product is handled from growth to the point of sale.

"The feds are going to tighten the rope if they feel like it's not strictly regulated," Garza said. "The more tightly regulated it is, they are likely to give us a little more room."

One of the biggest issues the state is investigating is how much marijuana will be grown under the new system. Garza said it's important for officials to properly project consumption rates so the state grows the right amount of product for in-state users without having any extra supply that could spill into states that haven't legalized marijuana.

Garza's comments came a day before Gov. Jay Inslee was set to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss the marijuana law. Washington voters approved the marijuana law in November, but Justice Department officials have not indicated whether they will allow Washington and Colorado to create legal marijuana markets, since the drug is illegal under federal law.

Goal: Improve public safety

Alison Holcomb, who helped lead Washington's marijuana initiative, said the measure was written with the expectation that the system would be intensely scrutinized. She said it makes sense for the federal government to wait and see what the rules look like and what checks and balances are in place. She thinks federal officials will be more willing to allow legal pot to exist if they know it complements federal law enforcement efforts.

"From a public safety standpoint, they are going to look hard at what the outcomes are: Is it compromising public safety, or is it actually improving public safety?"

Holcomb said the initiative was drafted with a conservative approach that would be a small step into the legal pot world. "We want to be held accountable," she said. "We want this to be watched to see if it's a workable alternative to marijuana prohibition."

Washington's Liquor Control Board, which has been regulating alcohol for 78 years, is in the process of soliciting advice from experts to help it determine how the state should grow, process, sell and regulate marijuana.