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WA State Moves to Regulate Marijuana -- What You Need to Know About the Groundbreaking Reform

Voters in the state approved marijuana legalization in November. Now, it's time to establish a system to tax-and-regulate.
 
 
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Voters approved the marijuana legalization initiative I-502 in Washington state last November, and it is now legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but a full-blown marijuana commerce industry doesn't just happen overnight. The state is still months away from having a functioning system of state-taxed and -regulated marijuana cultivators, processors, and retailers, but the process is well underway, and by most accounts, it is going relatively smoothly.

Last month, the Washington Liquor Control Board (LCB), the state agency charged with setting up the state's marijuana industry, issued its  initial draft rules. It took written comments on the initial draft rules through Monday and will issue revised draft rules later this month. The LCB will hold public hearings on the rules for all three envisaged licenses -- grower, processor, and retailer -- in late July, promulgate final rules in August, begin accepting license applications in September, and begin issuing licenses in December.

From then, it is still likely to be months before the first legal marijuana is sold in Washington because only once growers are licensed will legal marijuana destined for retail sale be in the pipeline. It takes a minimum of three months to bring an indoor crop to harvest. But by sometime next spring, consumers should be able to go to their local pot shop and make their selections.

"These initial rules balance our goal of developing a tightly regulated system with reasonable access for small and large business models to participate within the system," said Board Chair Sharon Foster. "They are based upon hundreds of hours of internal research and deliberation, consultation with multiple industry experts and input from the over 3,000 individuals who attended our forums statewide."

The initial draft rules reflect the Board's stated goal of developing a tightly regulated and controlled recreational marijuana market. Included in the rules are elements that address out-of-state diversion of product, traceability of product from start to sale, youth access and other public and consumer safety concerns.

Here are some of the key elements in the initial draft rules: 

License Requirements

  • Application Window -- The application window would open for 30 days for all license types and be extended or reopened at the Board's discretion. This approach was similar to how Colorado opened its medical marijuana system.
  • Background Checks -- License applicants and financiers would be required to submit a form attesting to their criminal history, provide fingerprints, and allow criminal background checks. 
  • Point System -- The WSLCB would employ a disqualifying criminal history point system similar to liquor. An exception would be allowed for two misdemeanor convictions of possession within three years.

Public Safety

  • Producer Structures -- Producer operations would be allowed in both secure indoor grows or greenhouses.
  • Traceability -- A robust and comprehensive traceability software system will trace product from start to sale.
  • Violation Guidelines -- In addition to the $1,000 fine for certain violations established by I-502, the initial draft rules also include a strict tiered system of violation penalties over a three year period (similar to the current standard penalty guidelines for liquor).
  • Security -- The rules direct strict on-site surveillance systems similar to Colorado's current system.  
  • Advertising Restrictions -- I-502 restricts advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, transit centers, arcades, and other areas where children are present. The draft rules further restrict advertising as they pertain to children.

Consumer Safety

  • Behind the Counter Storage -- No open containers allowed.  
  • Package and Label Requirements -- Consumers will know contents and potency of products they purchase.
  • Defined Serving Size -- Serving sizes equal 10 mg of THC. Products are limited to 100 mg.
  • Lab Tested -- Uniform testing standards by independent accredited labs.

With the release of the initial draft rules, the period for written comment opened up.  One of the first analyses -- not a formal comment -- came from the Henry Wykowski law firm, a San Francisco marijuana law practice that recently opened a Seattle office. Drafted by Wykowski attorney Rachel Kurtz, a longtime player in the Seattle marijuana reform scene, the analysis shined a light on some of what could be described as the rules' downsides.

 
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