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    Pot law changes: Will legislators boldly go where they rarely venture?

    A group of influential Democratic leaders want to amend the state's marijuana legalization law before the details are even worked out.
    Photo: Unai Mateo

    Photo: Unai Mateo

    Key state House lawmakers want to get to work immediately on changing the state's marijuana initiative, passed just two months ago to statewide and even national acclaim.

    It's an unusual move, since legislators normally wait at least two years to make changes in voter-approved laws unless sponsors of the initiative are on board. And the idea of changes has drawn opposition from supporters of the groundbreaking measure. But the chairs of three House committes want amendments to set licensing fees that are high enough to cover costs for the long run.  

    Last week, the initiative's author said the Olympia push to amend Initiative 502, which last year legalized recereational marijuana, is contrary to the spirit of the measure.

    A significant increase in licensing fees could push out small growers and retailers, said Alison Holcomb, who acted as director for the pro-502 campaign. A big-business takeover of the market, is exactly what the sponsors of the initiative wanted to prevent when they set licensing fees for growers, retailers and processors of the drug at $250, plus $1,000 annually, Holcomb said.

    "The point here is not to consolidate control of a fledgling industry in the hands of a few large businesses," Holcomb said. "We're not interested in creating a large industry with an interest in promoting marijuana use."

    Holcomb's statement came in response to a push by Rep. Christopher Hurst, a Democrat from Enumclaw in rural Pierce County, and others, to slow down implementation of the measure and raise the price of marijuana growing and selling licenses.

    In addition to setting licensing fees, the initiative broadly defined what the shape of the legal marijuana market in Washington should be, set tax levels for the drug, and directed the government to use much of the tax money to fund substance-abuse study and treatment. Within that framework, the initiative gave Washington's Liquor Control Board authority to make specific rules in some areas, and to control the licensing of growers, sellers and processors of the drug.

    Last week, Hurst joined with Reps. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and Ross Hunter, D-Medina, in sending a letter to Washington's Liquor Control Board objecting to the timeline established by the initiative, which requires the board to finish making the rules by Dec. 1 this year.

    "I'm not interested in changing the will of the people," said Hurst. "But I think there are some fair questions that need to be asked."

    As it stands, the initiative exposes the state to too much risk, he said. The cost of making the rules has to be covered by the Liquor Control Board's general fund until tax revenue from the initiative starts coming in. Inspecting large agricultural operations will also be expensive, Hurst said.

    Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson will meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week in a session where they hope to hear that the Obama administration will take a relaxed attitude. If the federal government were to shut down Washington's marijuana industry before those expenses could be paid back, taxpayers would be left to foot the bill, Hurst said. 

    So, he said, the cost of the licenses should cover the cost of making the rules from the beginning.

    "Why would we sell these things for less if they're worth more?" he added.

    "Maybe there's a place for mom-and-pop operations," Hurst said. But it's not worth it, he said, for the state to take a financial risk just to keep license fees low.

    The initiative also doesn't do enough to safeguard public safety, Hurst said. By capping fines charged for licensing violations, the initiative could keep the Liquor Control Board from being an effective regulator.

    "If you're making 70,000 bucks a week," Hurst said, "what do you care if you get a ticket for $1,000 once in a while?"

    Holcomb said she couldn't see how Hurst thought the initiative would cost the state money in the long run. The risk of the feds shutting the market down before the state saw income is remote, she argued. In 15 years of medical marijuana being legal in some states, Holcomb said, the federal government has never prosecuted a single state employee, or even threatened to. 

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    Posted Tue, Jan 22, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    If the idea behind this proposed legislation is to make sure that adequate funding is provided to the Washington State Liquor Board, it seems like an odd time for it to happen. After all, the agency's retail booze monopoly has been taken away, thereby reducing a lot of its overhead; at the same time (according to the privatization measure) the tax revenues from private liquor sales must remain at least as high as they were prior to privatization (for the first 2 years, anyway). So the Liquor Board--without the marijuana legalization measure--would be finding itself with the same revenue coming in but fewer costs to cover or things to do. The fact that the marijuana initiative seemed to provide a lifeline to an increasingly obsolete agency, whose various remaining duties would be better managed at a local level rather than at a state one, was one of the reasons I voted against the marijuana initiative. But now that it's been passed, the duties its adds to the Liquor Board's already reduced workload should not be taken as an excuse to give it more money.

    Posted Tue, Jan 22, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    " Since the liquor control board has experience keeping communities safe from alcohol customers, Holcomb said,"

    If true where did all the drunk drivers in the past come from?


    Posted Tue, Jan 22, 2:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    And once again the Legislature ignores pressing issues so it can instead meddle in other people's affairs. Did the voters hurt the legislators' feelings by passing this landmark legislation without them? Though. If they were doing their jobs the voters wouldn't have to keep doing the legislators' jobs for them.


    Posted Tue, Jan 22, 3:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    Rep. Christopher Hurst must be DRUNK!

    QUOTE: "Why would we sell these things for less if they're worth more?" he added. "Maybe there's a place for mom-and-pop operations," Hurst said. But it's not worth it, he said, for the state to take a financial risk just to keep license fees low."

    Obviously, Rep. Hurst (D) doesn't care much about main stream or main street. Nor, does he seem to care about the RIGHT to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the voting constituency.

    QUOTE: "If you're making 70,000 bucks a week," Hurst said, "what do you care if you get a ticket for $1,000 once in a while?"

    This statement gives up his premise. Mom and Pop - whom he already stated he does not care about - won't be making $70,000 a week. Only the large scale growers, whom he wants to cater to by charging extra high fees (thereby squeezing out boutique mom and pop operations) will be able to reap that type of income.

    And the CONSUMER will get stuck with mass produced low quality weed. Imagine walking into a liquor store only to see "Olympia" beer on the shelves...it makes my colon quiver.

    Small start ups should be given equal opportunity to compete in this brand new industry. Either grow quality marijuana at a low price, or get out of the business.

    Perhaps, Rep. Hurst should consider becoming a Republican.

    Posted Tue, Jan 22, 7:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    I heartily associate myself with this, except for the last sentence. One thing the War On Drugs has taught us is that covetousness of power over the people knows no party affiliation in the halls of government.


    Posted Wed, Jan 23, 1 a.m. Inappropriate

    I would like to point out that Rep Christopher Hurst was a NARCOTICS OFFICER who made his career, his name, and his money putting marijuana growers and users in jail. In my opinion Rep. Hurst is NOT to be listened to on this subject. HE IS THE PROBLEM. Him and others LIKE him are THE reason Washington voters passed I-502. Washingtonians are SICK and TIRED of people like Rep. Hurst.

    Posted Thu, Jan 24, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    The article states: "To take public input, the [State Liquor Control] agency will be holding meetings around the state throughout the rest of January and into February."

    Please note that one of these meetings will be held at the Seattle City Hall in downtown Seattle, starting at 7:00 PM TONIGHT (Thursday, 1/24/13), according to a "Seattle Times" article a couple days ago. For Seattle readers, here's your chance to do more on this issue than simply spouting off in a "Comments" section...

    Posted Sat, Jan 26, 7:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    "If you're making 70,000 bucks a week," Hurst said, "what do you care if you get a ticket for $1,000 once in a while?"

    Why not apply the same logic toward the banking industry?


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