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Marijuana bill moving forward ahead of potential government shutdown

_ELS8977State lawmakers came pretty close Wednesday to finally passing a long-awaited bill that promises to shake up Washington’s recreational marijuana market. Then, they decided to table it for another day.

Ah, the suspense…

House Bill 2136 proposes a number of sweeping changes to the industry. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Creates a new tax structure that gets rid of the 25 percent excise tax on growers and processors and changes the excise tax rate for retailers
  • Shares pot tax revenue with cities and counties
  • Renames the Liquor Control Board the “Liquor and Cannabis Board”
  • Establishes a cannabis research license and allows public universities to contract for cannabis research with federally recognized Indian tribes.

For anyone not keeping track of the horse race, the bill was placed on third reading Tuesday, and it appeared ready for a final vote in the House. But there’s still some good news for those whose businesses depend on the bill for survival: It’s just about guaranteed to pass at this point, as lawmakers view the measure as a key piece of their final budget picture. It also looks like they’ll take up HB 2136 again on Thursday.

Of course, they’d better work fast to wrap up all their work in the next few days. Currently stuck in a second special session, Gov. Jay Inslee has until midnight on Tuesday to sign off on a budget for the next two fiscal years.

If they miss the deadline, Washington will go into an unprecedented government shutdown. That means some 26,000 government employees would be temporarily laid off, and lots of offices and parks will close. Then, the Legislature would go into yet another special session, and the shutdown would continue until we finally have a budget.

A bunch of state agencies would only go through a partial shutdown, but some, like the Washington State Liquor Control Board, would be completely kaput. So, what does that mean for the recreational marijuana industry?

It’s pretty simple, LCB spokesman Brian Smith explains. Here’s what you’d see during the shutdown:

  • No licensing
  • No enforcement
  • No tax and fee collection
  • No media or licensee communication
  • No LCB meetings

Yikes. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

 – Justin Runquist