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News about the legal Washington State industry & public concerns.

Pot Bills Get Hearings in Washington Legislature

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A Washington House committee approved two bills this week related to the state’s marijuana industry, which has steadily grown since the state’s voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

In the first, the House Commerce and Gaming Committee voted for legislation aimed at getting counties and cities to act one way or another on marijuana retail license applications. Many cities have licensed new marijuana retail shops that are now doing business. Many have banned those shops within their borders. Some municipalities have done neither.  

It is the latter group that motivated committee chairman David Sawyer to introduce this bill. Sawyer is a Democrat from Tacoma.

“In one jurisdiction I can think of right now, where every precinct voted in favor of the legalization of marijuana, they have decided to neither have a ban nor issue business licenses. They are choosing federal law over state law," Sawyer said. "And so I’m pushing this bill forward, promoting this bill, because I think it is, out of respect for our voters of this state to make sure we are enforcing their will and making sure our local governments who we are supposed to be partners with are enacting the will of the people of this state.”

Sawyer’s bill stipulates that when the state begins sharing marijuana-related tax money with local municipalities, perhaps within the next year or so, only those that have allowed licensed retailers will get a cut.

Marijuana industry advocates like Ezra Eichmeyer say those cities and towns that refuse to allow at least retailers inside their jurisdictions are keeping alive the black market for pot.

“The absolute single biggest barrier our industry has against capturing the illicit market sales in its entirety is the fact that we still have over 90 cities with a ban or a moratorium in place," Eichmeyer said. "And we have other cities that don’t technically have a ban or a moratorium but still aren’t even really allowing retail stores.”

Candice Bock from the Association of Washington Cities says her organization opposes the bill. She says, for many cities, there aren’t enough incentives for allowing pot shops. For example, the tax money they would receive isn’t yet enough of an attraction.

“These decisions are made usually after a lot of community input, a lot of public meetings and it’s not done in a vacuum," Bock said. "There are multiple factors that go into it. Fiscal is definitely one of those, but there are other philosophical opinions that go into making those decisions as well.”

Expanding marijuana shop ownership

The second bill approved would increase the number of marijuana establishments an individual or company can own.

State law allows three marijuana-related retail businesses per owner. The idea was to keep the infant industry from being overtaken by big business, especially those headquartered elsewhere.

East Wenatchee Republican Representative Cary Condotta has proposed increasing that to five.

“There hasn’t been any Starbucks version of this happening and we now find it’s probably time to open that up just a little bit," Condotta said. "There’s a number of folks that have done two or three stores successfully. I’ve toured some of them; they’re really well-run. And they’d like to continue expanding some of their stores.”

During a hearing on the bill Tuesday, several marijuana store owners agreed on the proposal to allow them to expand, though they diverged on how many stores individual owners should be allowed to have. Others called for the state to open up licenses than the 550-600 that have been issued.