The Columbian / Associated Press

Lawmakers talk pot regulations, suspensions

OLYMPIA — Members of the Commerce and Gaming committee heard testimony Tuesday from lobbyists, concerned citizens and shop owners for several marijuana bills.

The bills included changing the penalties for marijuana offenses, a process for medical marijuana patients who are over 18 but under 21 to buy plants and seeds from retailers, a change in the packaging requirements for marijuana-infused edibles, a limit on the number of licenses a retailer or co-owner can possess, and a plan to address the issue of county governments’ unofficial moratoriums, or suspensions, on marijuana retail.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, the ranking Republican on the committee, and Rep. David Sawyer, D-Lakewood, the chair of the committee, either wrote or co-sponsored most of the bills.

One of the biggest bills during the hearing was a plan to sanction counties and cities that have informal moratoriums on marijuana retail sale.

The sanction for continuing a moratorium on marijuana retail sales would force counties to give up 70 percent share of their share of any money from the liquor revolving fund, and in addition, they would receive no share of state marijuana tax revenue.

To comply with the bill, counties that have moratoriums would have to pass a formal ordinance banning marijuana sales, or affirmatively allow it to be sold in their city. If they chose to ban sales, they would still not receive any cannabis sale funds.

“I am pushing this bill forward and promoting this bill because I think it is out of respect for the voters of this state to make sure we are enforcing their will and making sure our local governments we are supposed to be partners with are enacting the will of the people,” Sawyer said.

Condotta, who co-sponsored the bill said creating a legal market across the entire state promotes legal sales instead of an illicit black market continuing in those areas.

“If you don’t have full distribution black market guys move into those areas that are less served,” Condotta said. “The areas that are well served by a regulated legal environment really push out the market share for the bad guys. In order for the program to be successful statewide, it has to be distributed statewide.”

Condotta said he does understand why cities and counties enact temporary moratoriums for cannabis production and he doesn’t see an issue with giving them time to enact rules for growers. “There is some merit there, the counties got kind of broadsided and they didn’t understand what they were getting into and they need a little time to sort things out, so I’m OK with that.”

House Republican Floor Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, disagreed with the sanction during a press conference early Tuesday afternoon. Wilcox said he would like more liquor and cannabis money to return to local governments instead of penalizing them.

“I just don’t see why we should be in the business of compelling them to do it regardless of their values in the city are,” Wilcox said. “I believe that at this point, if they don’t allow marijuana sales, they don’t get to share in marijuana revenues, that sounds like enough of an incentive to me.”

Condotta also wrote a bill about marijuana product packaging. He said the marijuana industry found the packaging requirements redundant and wanted to simplify them. He doesn’t see that bill sparking more than a discussion in the long term between the cannabis board and the cannabis industry.