As stoners prep for Hempfest later this summer, the Washington Liquor Control Board will start issuing licenses for marijuana retailers on July 7. About 20 retailers are expected to receive licenses and could open their doors as soon as July 8. The new pot sellers will have to meet a series of regulations intended to keep marijuana out of underage hands.
“We don’t want marijuana candy bars laying around on somebody’s coffee table,” said Sharon Foster, chair of Washington State Liquor Control Board, in a press conference today with Gov. Jay Inslee and other state officials.
The Liquor Control Board is expected to approve new emergency rules Wednesday, which will require companies to get approval on the labeling of any pot edibles they want to sell. Cartoons, toys and other advertising gimmicks aimed at children — like the infamous Joe Camel marketing of cigarettes — won’t be tolerated.
Mary Jane won’t be the free-loving product of its past either, under other rules that the state has already adopted. Not only will marijuana products be tested in labs, they will need clear warning labels about the health effects, potency and serving size, as well as child-resistant packaging.
Failure to invoke similar regulations in Colorado is being blamed for two deaths tied the consumption of pot edibles, and an increase in the number of children admitted to hospitals after eating marijuana-infused goodies. The incidents prompted Colorado to adopt new laws akin to Washington’s rules in May.
The Washington Liquor Control Board used to regulate alcohol labels before privatization. Now it won’t just be looking at labels, it will consider the actual nature of the product, potentially barring items like pot-laced gummy bears and cherry bombs if the board believes the product will attract children. None of the 20 retailers ready to begin selling this summer have so far asked the board to approve pot edibles.
Board Chair Foster said she was particularly concerned about baby-boomers or other users unfamiliar with the new potency of pot. “The marijuana today is not the marijuana of the '60s,” she pointed out.
John Batiste, Washington State Patrol chief, said there hasn’t been any major jump in the number of marijuana-related DUIs since legalization in 2012. Although the agency doesn’t currently track marijuana DUIs, toxicology lab results show there has only been a small uptick in the percentage of DUI blood samples testing positive for marijuana statewide — from 2.6 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2014.
Like other law enforcement officials in Washington, state troopers have access to 220 drug-recognition experts who can assist troopers in assessing whether a driver is high —and determine their drug of choice. A spokesperson for Washington State Patrol, Sergeant Jason Hicks, told Crosscut that he hasn’t personally seen an increase in the amount of calls he has received as a drug-recognition expert since 2012.
State troopers and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission are also circulating a new slogan: “Drive High, Get a DUI.” The state Department of Health hopes to raise public awareness, too, with a $400,000 ad campaign to encourage parents to speak with their children about using pot safely (and after the age of 21). Parents can get more information at www.learnaboutmarijuanawa.org/.
“It is incumbent on everyone — retailers, parents, health professionals and public officials — to do everything possible to keep pot away from kids,” Gov. Inslee proclaimed. “If we fail in that, Washington’s regulated, retail market for marijuana may fail, too.”
Gov. Inslee also attempted to dispel what he called “the huge illusion” that revenue from the marijuana market would somehow eliminate the state’s budget shortfall. “No one should look to the legalization of marijuana as a way to solve this problem," he said. "It is mountains larger than the incremental dollars that will come from this source.”