Marijuana legalization creates more questions than answers
August 6, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
Public meetings will begin to tackle the marijuana business licensing debate Aug. 7, but many questions still exist.
In the days after Washington voters passed Initiative 502 — and created the least restrictive rules for marijuana use in the United States — GreenLink Collective staffers fielded the same question again and again.
How much is 1 ounce of marijuana?
The ballot measure legalized marijuana use for adults 21 and older. I-502 allows sales at state-licensed stores of up to 1 ounce of marijuana grown by state-licensed farmers — once staff officials establish rules for the marijuana supply chain.
The answer to the question at GreenLink, a patient-run medical marijuana organization in Issaquah, differs based on the variety of marijuana, founder Jake George said.
The simplest answer is 1 ounce of marijuana is enough for about 20 joints.
But how much 1 ounce yields can also depend on the variety of marijuana, and whether it is fluffier or packed tight.
Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said the initial period after the law changed did not lead to problems for city officers.
“As soon as it passed, we got as much information as we could and put it out to officers,” he said recently. “It basically said, this is the law and this is the position of the department.”
The measures changed nothing in Washington public schools. Marijuana and certain other drugs remain illegal on school property and to people younger than 21.
Nationwide, school districts must adhere to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and operate as drug- and tobacco-free workplaces in order to receive federal funds.
Though the law took effect Dec. 6, establishing the details for legal marijuana could take up to a year.
The task to formulate rules to grow, sell, tax and regulate marijuana is left to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Officials reached out to local governments, organizations and the public to craft the regulations. The board attracted overflow crowds to initial public meetings in Olympia and Seattle. The board also hosted meetings in Vancouver and Spokane.
Nationwide, 18 states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana, but the drug remains illegal in all forms under federal law. In November, Colorado voters also legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Issaquah, in some ways, delved into the hazy issues surrounding marijuana law before voters endorsed I-502.
GreenLink Collective opened in late 2010 at a former daycare center near Issaquah Valley Elementary School in a neighborhood not zoned for commercial operations.
Establishing rules for marijuana
Officials later ruled against GreenLink’s initial application for a city business license. The ruling started a months-long process, as GreenLink’s founders, husband-and-wife team Jake and Lydia George, spearheaded the effort to create rules for medical marijuana operations.
In December 2011, after listening to emotional testimony from medical marijuana users — and only a handful of complaints from opponents — the City Council adopted rules to limit such medical marijuana operations near schools, parks and other collective gardens.
The ordinance set some restrictions on medical marijuana operations, but stood out as other King County cities refused to address the issue or banned medical marijuana operations outright.
GreenLink opened at a storefront along Northwest Gilman Boulevard early last year.
Other cities studied the successful process Issaquah used to craft the ordinance, but I-502 prompted GreenLink and other operations to prepare for additional changes.
State officials plan to spend up to a year to establish rules for growing, processing, selling and possessing marijuana.
Soon after I-502 passed, liquor board staffers studied the Issaquah ordinance and reached out to the Georges for guidance.
(The measure passed overwhelmingly among Issaquah voters, 58.2 percent to 41.7 percent.)
The liquor board experienced a deluge of inquires from people interested in acquiring licenses to grow and sell marijuana immediately after I-502 passed.
“We’re telling people, ‘This thing doesn’t exist now,’ and we have to create a system,” spokesman Brian Smith said in December, as the board started the long process to create rules for marijuana. “That’s what we’re doing. It’s a public process — we want their input. But, give us time to be able to put this together.”
Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss marijuana legalization.
“We have assembled a legal team in the attorney general’s office, and I have made legal implementation of this initiative a top priority,” Ferguson said in a statement issued after the meeting. “This will be an ongoing discussion, and we plan to continue our dialogue with Attorney General Holder in the coming months.”
Still, uncertainty clouds the discussion. Smith recalled a conversation with a real estate attorney about the conflict between state and federal rules.
“Regardless of what the state is doing, anything that you’re doing on this is a risk, because the federal government could step in at any time and say, ‘You’re a grower. That’s against federal law,’” he said.
Liquor Control Board establishes business timetable
In the meantime, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has issued dates for filing its recreational marijuana draft rules that will govern the three prospective licenses it will offer: producer, processor and retailer. Over the next several months, the board will weigh potential avenues of enforcement and allowance and request public response in the process. Although the deadline has passed for public comment over the cut of draft rules, released May 16, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future.
On July 3, the board was expected to file the official draft rules with the code reviser and then give a month for citizens to read over them before offering a public response. The board could have hurried on the timeline, but wished to carefully weigh all of the input received.
“In keeping with our goal of an open and transparent process for drafting the rules, we’re going to take an additional two weeks to consider the last-minute input we’ve received,” board director Rick Garza said in a statement. “The board was prepared to issue the rules on June 19. However, it’s our responsibility to carefully review and consider the comments we received.”
The first meeting will take place in the Snoqualmie Valley area Aug. 7, at the Fall City Library, 33415 S.E. 42nd Place, Fall City. Other meetings will take place Aug. 8, 12 and 13 in Seattle, Maple Valley and Vashon/Maury Island, respectively. After that, the board expects to adopt the rules and begin implementation of its licensing restrictions in the middle of September. Applications will be accepted for all license types at that time.
Rules drafted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, together with Colorado, will govern the world’s only comprehensive systems of growing, processing and retailing marijuana for recreational use.
On the Web
- Learn more about the steps the Washington State Liquor Control Board is enacting to set rules for marijuana at the board’s website, http://liq.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502.
- Find copies of the proposed ordinance at www.kingcounty.gov/permitting.
- A Seattle Police Department Q&A about marijuana legalization titled — ‘Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use in Seattle’ — went viral. Read the tongue-in-cheek guide at http://bit.ly/PJQP3C.
Reporter Peter Clark contributed to this story.