Even after 46 pages of initial draft rules were circulated by the state Liquor Control Board on Thursday, the path to marijuana legalization remains fraught with uncertainty.Marijuana sales could begin in Washington in early 2014 and, to its credit, the board has worked rapidly and diligently trying to steer Washington through unprecedented tasks. Staffers have spent eight months studying, deliberating and charting this course after voters approved Initiative 502 last fall. Many of the rules announced last week add bits of clarity to this confusing issue, but as cannabis lobbyist Ezra Eickmeyer was quoted in The News Tribune of Tacoma, "This is when any potential fighting actually begins."
Details about the implementation of I-502 are available at http://liq.wa.gov. Public comment will be accepted through June 10, with final draft rules announced later that month. For now, our recommendation is to expect a long and bumpy road to legalized pot, and be prepared for many changes, updates and rule reversals along the way.
Already there are a few developments that are commendable. The state wants to track marijuana from "seed to store," and the number of retail outlets in each county will be capped. Marijuana-related businesses will be required to install security systems and 24-hour video surveillance and obtain liability insurance. Other good ideas: Marijuana can only be grown indoors or in greenhouses, not in open fields. Consuming pot on the property of licensed businesses will be prohibited. Advertising will not be allowed near schools or parks. And cities may appeal licenses, although the LCB could deny any appeals.
Warning labels will be required, including, "This product is unlawful outside of Washington state." But therein lies one of the LCB's biggest challenges: keeping pot from becoming an exported commodity. And no one is sure how that can be accomplished, which is understandable in that no other state has tried this. The Associated Press reports that, although there will be limits on the number of retail marijuana outlets, the number of licensed pot growers or processors will not be capped.
To that black-market export concern, Gov. Jay Inslee responded last week: "I don't think you can design a system with much more integrity, as far as tracking the product from the producer to the consumer. This plan has a robust system of controls and checks in a variety of ways."
We're not that confident. However, it is comforting to know that growers, processors and retailers will be required to notify the LCB about any marijuana shipments, and records must be kept about when plants are harvested and destroyed.
Regardless, there's really no way of knowing how successful Washington can be in setting (with Colorado) a model for other states that are considering legalizing marijuana.
"I'm impressed with the depth and thoughtfulness of (the LCB's) approach," Inslee also said, "and look forward to moving forward." Ever so carefully, that journey will proceed, but plenty of mistakes and course corrections must be anticipated.