Lottery process set for pot licenses

State, WSU to work together on system for retail stores

By Lauren Dake, Columbian political writer

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OLYMPIA — The Washington State Liquor Control Board approved the lottery process Wednesday that will determine who will be eligible to open up a recreational marijuana retail store in the state.

The first recreational marijuana shops could be open by the first week of July.

Sharon Foster, liquor board chair, said she had a “twinkle of hope” stores could be open sooner, perhaps the last week of June, but she said that will depend “a lot on how responsive the applicants are.”

More than 2,100 people have applied, but many of the applications were deemed incomplete. The liquor control board has limited the number of pot shops it will allow to open to 334 statewide, including 15 in Clark County.

The unveiling of the process and the timeline was a major hurdle, said Bobby Saberi, 37, who has opened a recreational marijuana consulting business and co-owns several stores in Vancouver selling marijuana-related paraphernalia.

“It’s like the end of finals, when you can take a deep breath — ‘ahh.’ Your tests are done,” Saberi said.

The state is working with the accounting firm that handles the state’s lottery system, Kraght-Snell of Seattle, and the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center of Washington State University to conduct the double-blind lottery. The audit firm will assign random numbers to the applicants, and officials from WSU will randomly draw the numbers. The liquor control board will not have any information ahead of time regarding which applicants are in the mix.

The liquor board has started the processes of pre-qualifying applicants. To be eligible, those interested had 30 days to return five pieces of documentation: their personal criminal history, identification showing they are older than 21, proof of Washington residence, proof their potential business would be within state boundaries and documentation showing they have a location where they can legally set up a store.

So far, the liquor board estimates anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of applicants have been disqualified from the lottery for not completing their application.

The liquor control board will begin alerting lottery winners at the end of this month. By May 2, the “world should know” who the state’s retailers will be, said Randy Simmons, who is charged with overseeing the implementation of recreational weed for the state’s liquor control board.

Board members acknowledged the process has moved slower than anticipated. But they disputed comparisons to Colorado, the only other state that has legalized recreational marijuana.

“The difference between Colorado and our system is we have an unregulated medical marijuana system and still do,” said Ruthann Kurose, liquor control board member.

Lawmakers proposed measures last legislative session that would have regulated and aligned the medical marijuana market with the recreational market, but the legislation failed. Medical marijuana, which voters legalized in 1998, remains unregulated, which made it more complicated when crafting rules to implement the legalization of recreational marijuana.

The state also is in the process of licensing growers and processors. The liquor control board started that process first, with the hopes processors and growers would be prepared to supply the market’s demand by the time retail outlets opened. The process has been slow “to the outside,” said Becky Smith, the marijuana licensing and regulation manager for the liquor control board.

Smith said a lot of people are not ready for their final inspection and are still working on fencing and security issues. The board moved to limit marijuana production to a little more than 88,000 pounds for 2014.