Marijuana Legalization in Washington State Update
After squeezing through the midsummer madness at your local super market you almost have everything you need to try making your very first batch of cannabis cookies. Flour, eggs, sugar—Check. Chocolate chips and vanilla extract—Double check. Looking into the cart you know something is missing…something important. Although you’ll have no luck finding it next to the herbs in the produce section, it was legalized eight months ago…so where’s the weed?
Last November, when the citizens of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana the Colorado Legislature was charged with writing the laws for regulation. Voters here in Washington state approved a similar bill, but the responsibility for establishing and regulating the new industry was left in the hands of the Liquor Control Board. In mid-May, the Washington LCB issued a first draft of proposed laws for regulating the legal production, processing, and retail of Marijuana here in Washington state. Some critics complain of how long everything is taking. However, we have to remember that the LCB is in completely uncharted territory. There are no other examples to follow. The board says it is committed to tracking each plant that hits retail, “from seed to sale.” What this means is that all marijuana intended for retail stores will be accounted for—from first sprouting until it is properly packaged and showcased on store shelves. The LCB released a second draft of updated rules in early July. This version will likely be finalized in coming weeks and will lay the guidelines governing the new recreational pot industry.
Producers (Growers), processing facilities , and retail locations will all be required to maintain 24-hour surveillance of their facilities. Producers will use their green thumbs to enter daily counts for the weight of all plants grown, even crops that are defunct and that will never see store shelves. The May draft of the laws originally prohibited growing marijuana outdoors. This was the largest criticism made by potential growers. After feedback and further consideration, the LCB decided to allow outdoor grows. Provided the locations still meet the high security standards. A chain link fence does a pretty good job of saying “Authorized Employees Only.” Growers are going to be encouraged to go for organic. There will be restrictions on what chemicals may be used on parts of the plant intended for consumption. Overall the goal is to keep the marijuana as healthy and as safe as possible. If it’s super kind bud that just so happens to be organic, who’s complaining?
Processors will be responsible for fine-tuning the new Marijuana crops before they are shipped to stores. It may sound a little like working in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, mixing, matching, infusing new strains into new recipes until some delicious treat sits before you, ready to take you around the world and back. Although processors might have expanded creative freedoms, their duties to the public are great. Processors will be responsible for the proper labeling of all marijuana products. The Liquor Control Board issued a sample of how future packaging will most likely look:
The label will inform consumers of the THC/CBD percentages of the plant or infused product they purchase, net weight, and the name of the strain. If it is a baked good or infused product the label will specify the total THC contained. The LCB defines an infused product serving size as 10mg of THC. Ten servings or 100mg will be the maximum any single package may contain. And of course all packaging will display the cautionary disclaimer: Warning-may be habit forming.
Retail locations, where recreational users will go for their one-stop-pot needs, will not be popping up on every corner. In fact, finding a suitable location for your Retail store may require some extensive research. Retail stores will not be allowed to operate within 1000ft from schools, parks, day cares, libraries and public transfer service stations. Under LCB definition any covered bus stop counts as a transit station which disqualifies many high traffic areas from being eligible locations. One Seattle law group that worked with the Washington Cannabis Association took the opportunity to suggest improvements to the first-draft laws. They proposed redefining some of the language used in the laws: a bus stop would not fall under “Public transit station” and “Arcade” would have a narrower definition so potential Retail operators aren’t banished to remote locations, “five miles out of town, pass the old barn, third shop on the right.” The actual number of retail locations will be based on a region’s population and demand. If a region receives more applications than allotted licenses a lottery decides who will get the license.
So it’s April and it’s the grand opening of a new marijuana retailer in your area. If you are twenty-one or older you’ll be invited to come in and stock up on some kind bud. Maybe some cannabis infused butter for the morning bagel and some cosmic brownies for dessert. Each infused product informatively displays THC content and any food ingredients used. After selecting a pack of pre-rolled joints you kindly ask the salesperson, “and what varieties do you have for oils?” The earlier drafted laws prohibited marijuana concentrates such as hash or oils. Hits of highly potent THC oils, more commonly known as ‘Dabs’, continue to grow in popularity; especially amongst fresh generations of smokers. Luckily for all of these enthusiasts, the LCB decided to allow the sale of concentrates as long as they are infused with trace amounts of another substance like vegetable oil.
Slowly, but with visual growth, Washington state inches towards a workable, legal weed market. The Liquor Control Board continues to emphasize its commitment to public safety and health in all aspects of production. But what guarantee of security is offered to the potential producers growing Washington’s newest commodity? Well, none really. The growing, distribution and selling of Marijuana still is illegal under Federal law. Shortly after the passing of Initiative 502, Governor Jay Inslee met with U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. During this encounter Gov. Inslee laid out the state’s plans to keep Washington grown weed within state borders. Although the federal government has not declared it will put a stop to the industries emerging in Washington and Colorado, it has not given its blessing either. News reports have hinted that some in Congress are in favor of letting states decide. This would not be a federally endorsed legalization, instead, states would choose how to approach the issue of marijuana. In the meantime, the federal silence is not comforting. July brought federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Olympia and Seattle Washington, with little information as to what caused those facilities to be targeted. As the LCB moves forward with preparations to get marijuana in-stores by spring 2014, any indications of what the federal government will allow (or overlook) are welcome. If the market is allowed to open as planned, it will be up to Washington to demonstrate to the federal government that they will not become the newest distributors for marijuana to other U.S. states.