Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Sept. 23, 2020

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2 tapped to fill liquor board vacancies

One is former prosecutor, other veteran state worker

The Columbian

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee nominated a former Kitsap County prosecutor and a veteran state employee Wednesday to the three-member board that oversees the state’s liquor and marijuana industries.

Russ Hauge, a Democrat, was the longest-serving elected prosecutor in Kitsap County’s history. He was in office two decades before he was narrowly unseated by Republican Tina Robinson in November.

The other nominee is Jane Rushford, who will serve as board chairwoman. She has held various positions in state government in the past 30 years. She is the former deputy director of the Department of Enterprise Services, and previously served as a policy adviser to the Department of Natural Resources and on the Democratic staff in the House of Representatives.

Hauge and Rushford are being named to posts being vacated by Liquor Control Board members Sharon Foster and Chris Marr, who helped oversee the launch of the state’s legal marijuana industry.

The nominees face confirmation in the state Senate, but they can start work on their six-year terms before they’re confirmed.

In a news release announcing the appointments, Inslee lauded Hauge for his background in public safety and Rushford for her commitment to collaboration and transparency.

“We have many opportunities to create a culture that’s responsible, that ensures public safety,” Rushford said Wednesday.

Of her long career with several state agencies, she said each position has been like graduate school: “Your skill set just expands and expands.”

Hauge said he’ll be the first law enforcement official in recent memory to serve on the board, and he’s looking forward to bringing that perspective to the agency. He frequently dealt with issues related to alcohol and marijuana — especially underage use — as a prosecutor, he noted.

Washington voters legalized marijuana for adults in 2012, and the liquor board was charged with coming up with rules for the industry, governing everything from security at licensed businesses to the size of signs. Sales began in July and so far have brought in about $17 million in taxes.

But state officials worry that the proliferation of unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries is undermining sales at recreational stores. Reconciling the two systems is a top priority for lawmakers, and the solution is likely to require significant work from the liquor board.

Hauge has something of a mixed reputation among medical marijuana activists, who say he brought charges in some questionable cases — including in 2002, when he charged a hepatitis C patient with growing marijuana for himself and two HIV or AIDS patients. Hauge ultimately dropped those charges, citing the state’s medical marijuana law; Douglas Hiatt, a defense lawyer for the men, said the case was referred for possible federal prosecution.

“The idea Russ Hauge should be appointed to deal with marijuana is nuts,” Hiatt said.

But longtime Seattle marijuana defense attorney Jeffrey Steinborn called Hauge a good addition to the board.

“He’s professional and reasonable,” Steinborn said.

Hauge declined to say whether he voted for the legal pot law, but he said voters have made their will clear: They want marijuana to be made available for recreational and legitimate medical purposes.

“I’m happy the federal government has allowed us to experiment,” he said.