The Washington State Liquor Control Board says it needs to hire 40 additional staff and bring an outside expert in marijuana to implement the voter-approved marijuana legalization measure.
In a briefing to a Senate committee in Olympia on Friday, LCB director Pat Kohler said the biggest challenge of setting up a regulated marijuana market was “understanding the product and the industry itself.”
“There’s a lot of people who think they have a lot of experience in this area,” joked Rick Garza, Kohler’s deputy.
The LCB is taking the lead in creating rules for state-licensed marijuana stores, growers and processors called for in Initiative 502, which passed 56-44 on Nov. 6. Friday’s hearing was the first chance for lawmakers to ask questions about the historic measure.
Kohler estimated there could be 328 stores – the same number of liquor stores under the now-defunct state liquor monopoly – but her staff needed to better understand potential customer demand, among other things. A state fiscal analysis predicted that 363,000 state residents would buy from the state stores, based on federal use surveys.
She said the LCB is preparing a bid for a consultant with expertise in the marijuana industry to advise LCB staff during the one-year rule-making process before licenses would begin being issued in December, 2013. That year “gives us a bit more time to be thoughtful to implement something that has never been implemented in the nation,” she said.
The 40 new staffers would be paid for out of existing funds, and would primarily go to hire enforcement officers, she said.
Sen. Adam Kline, a Seattle Democrat who supported the ballot measure, urged Kohler’s staff to work with “deliberate speed.” As of Dec. 6, one ounce of marijuana is legal to possess, but only state-licensed stores can sell it. That gives drug dealers a year to “entrench themselves,” said Kline.
“The more time it goes on, the more we’re asking for trouble,” he said.
Alison Holcomb, the lead author and campaign manager for Initiative 502, said there has been a “unregulated marijuana market for 100 years,” and that giving the LCB a year to create rules for a regulated market is wise.