Cannabis Chronicles BlogThe Columbian / Associated Press

State to allow more marijuana shops

 

Medical marijuana registry viewed warily-media-1Washington state officials will accept applications for new pot shops starting next month.

On Wednesday, the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board voted to begin aligning the state’s recreational and medical marijuana systems, a necessary move after recent legislation was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“(The vote) cleared the path or created the avenue to change the former system that has a window that has long been closed and begin a new process of accepting marijuana license applicants,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the board.

The new marijuana stores will eventually be able to sell both medical and recreational marijuana, Smith said. Existing recreational marijuana stores will be able to apply for an endorsement to sell medical marijuana if they are interested.

Unlike the previous time the state issued licenses for recreational stores, there will not initially be a cap on the number of retail licenses issued.

Existing medical marijuana stores or cooperatives must be licensed by the state by July 1, 2016 or will be considered illegal and stand the risk of being shut down by law enforcement.

When issuing licenses, the state will give priority to those who applied for a retail license before or have run a collective garden prior to January 2013 and have paid taxes.

Board Chair Jane Rushford called this “phase two” in the state’s cannabis legalization experiment.

“If phase one was implementation of the recreational marijuana marketplace, then today marks the beginning of phase two — the public process of aligning the medical marijuana system with the recreational system,” Rushford said in a statement.

The board also moved to lift some restrictions placed on how much marijuana licensed producers can grow.

Smith, spokesman for the board, said officials will notify current growers that they now can grow the full amount of marijuana their license allows for. They had been restricted to grow only 70 percent of that amount.

Tom Lauerman, a medical marijuana farmer in Vancouver, said he’s pleased to hear the state is lifting restrictions. He’s been wary of the state regulations, but he’s optimistic the board is trying to create a pathway for existing medical marijuana systems to be part of the future market.

“They want to reward the good players out there, the ones playing by the rules and transparent about what they are and what they do,” he said.

The state legalized medical marijuana in 1998, but the market has been mostly unregulated. In the spring, Inslee signed Senate Bill 5052 into law, which called for aligning the medical and recreational markets. The measure’s chief sponsor was state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

The board also is kicking off a series of public hearings before the draft rules adopted Wednesday become permanent. The hearing in Vancouver will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Clark College in Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

- Lauren Dake