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March 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM

No consensus on changes to Washington marijuana law

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House Bill 2000, the bill by Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, to modify Initiative 502, marijuana legalization, offers a mix of changes that could help create a functioning market and things that might not. That ambiguity was reflected in the testimony on the bill Wednesday: the bill was opposed by Derek Franklin of the Washington Association of Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention (WASAVP), which opposed legalization, and also by Keith Henson, Pierce County director for NORML, which favored it.

The bill would modify I-502’s rule about a cannabis store being no closer to a school, day care, playground, teen arcade game center, recreation center, transit center or library than 1,000 feet. The problem is that in densely populated areas like Seattle’s Capitol Hill, this rule effectively excludes the whole district. Hurst and others argued that total exclusion from a city district undermines the purpose of the 502, which is to replace the black market.

The pro-marijuana people liked that change. So did Genesee Adkins, director of government relations for King County, who worried that the current law will push marijuana stores into bits of unincorporated King County. Franklin of WASAVP didn’t like shrinking the zones to 500 feet, because he is opposed to making marijuana more convenient.

That’s the obviously loosening-up part of the bill. The restrictive part is Hurst’s proposal to create a “marketing certificate,” which would be a sort of license to get a license. These certificates would be specific to a territory, and would be auctioned off. It’s a way for the state to cash in on the scarcity value of store licenses and make the Washington State Liquor Control Board some up-front money.

Alison Holcomb, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, and the author of 502, argued that auctioning permits would tend to let big money dominate the legal market and would tend to force the small operators, who are already in the black market, to stay there. Neither would be good. She also argued that any weakening of the 1,000-foot rule might bring in the feds, who shut down a number of medical marijuana dispensaries in King County ostensibly because they were within 1,000 feet of this or that.

She was the principal author and campaigner for Initiative 502, and it is perhaps not surprising that her message amounted to: Just let it alone and see how it works. And that may be what happens.

At the beginning of his hearing, Hurst noted that it takes a two-thirds vote in both houses to change an initiative in the first two years, which means he needs something close to a consensus on the committee (Government Accountability and Oversight) if H.B. 2000 is to move at all. He sure didn’t have a consensus of the people testifying.

I am pro-legalization, and have argued against the whole idea of exclusion zones. Why should a marijuana store, which will forbid anyone under 21 from entering, and will be severely restricted in what it can display or say on its signs, be restricted by state law any more than, say, a tavern? And how are taverns restricted? I asked a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. The answer: A tavern license will be denied if it is within 500 feet of a public school and the school asks it–and may be denied at the Liquor Board’s discretion if it is within 500 feet of a private school or church, and the institution asks it. It is more likely to be denied if the school or church has support from local authorities. The spokesman said he knew of no state law restricting the location of taverns in regard to playgrounds, video arcades, day cares, libraries or transit centers.

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