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Pot legalization work is proving to be a big job

Washington state Liquor Control Board members listen at a hearing in Bremerton. Credit: Tom James/Crosscut

A legal market for recreational marijuana is one tiny step closer, but the pace of progress is proving hard to predict. And  you might not have as many chances to talk about it.

After wrapping up an initial round of public meetings on Friday, Washington's Liquor Control Board announced it might not hold any more comment periods until after proposed rules for legal pot in the state are drafted. While the initial comment period is technically open for another week, and two more forums had been scheduled, written comments may be the only option for now.

"I think that we're probably done," said board spokesman Brian Smith, who confirmed that the board is tentatively cancelling the rest of its public forums until it releases its first drafts of the marijuana rules, likely sometime mid-April.

The move is a change to a tentative plan the liquor board published at the start of the year, which called for three early rounds of public forums, so that the public could give input on the three areas the board was charged with regulating. Those areas are the growing, processing, and sale of marijuana.

Washington's marijuana legalizing Initiative 502 charged the liquor control board with setting rules for growing and selling recreational marijuana by Dec. 1.

"The only hard and fast date is December first," Smith said. With a long list of steps to complete before then, Smith said, "The timeline was always a way of 'how do we fit in all those other things in in linear fashion.' "

One reason for the change, Smith said, was the volume and variety of comment the board had already recieved. While the first comment period was supposed to be about producer rules, people talked about all facets of the market, from growing to selling. With so much general testimony already in hand, Smith said, it was hard to see the need to go through two more rounds of forums.

The change came as the board fell two weeks behind schedule on another key part of the process — choosing a consultant to help it understand the marijuana market as it exists today in the state. In previous interviews, Smith and others at the agency made much of the importance of the future consultant, and said that the board was depending on a partner to answer key questions about the market, including exactly how much marijuana to supply.

Smith stressed that the schedule the board had established was flexible. But, he acknowledged regarding the consultant job, "I'm regretting some of the timelines we put out. I don't think we were anticipating 112 bids."

Last Monday was the deadline the board had set for finding a partner, but the deadline came and went without a selection. Friday Smith said the agency still had not begun in-person interviews for the job, and that deciding on a candidate would take at least until the end of this week.

The last public forum — for now, at least— was held Friday in Bremerton. About 125 showed up, making it one of the smallest of the eight held around the state so far, but many of the concerns brought up were similar to those raised elsewhere, including whether the board would make a place for small businesses in the new market, the difference between medical and recretational marijuana, how purity and standards for organic pot would be established and how many licenses would be issued.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

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