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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

March 19, 2013 at 3:42 PM

House committee considers changes to marijuana law

The House committee overseeing the state’s marijuana law today heard feedback about a bill that would change state regulations.

Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, introduced House Bill 2000 to modify Initiative 502, a voter-passed measure allowing the sale and possession of marijuana for adults. He said he introduced the bill to preempt the “myriad of problems” the Washington State Liquor Control Board will face while implementing the initiative, especially given the lack of marijuana regulation the state has long had.

“We really have done nothing to regulate marijuana in Washington state,” Hurst said. “I could walk to downtown Olympia and find someone to sell him marijuana within five minutes.”

HB 2000 would change where businesses could legally sell marijuana. Under I-502, marijuana can’t be sold within 1000 feet of certain public facilities, including schools, parks, playgrounds and transit centers. HB 2000 would cut that distance to 500 feet, except near schools.

I-502 author Alison Holcomb opposed the bill, arguing that changing the 1000-foot rule could spark conflict with the federal government. Rick Garza, deputy director of the Liquor Control Board, expressed similar concerns. Garza urged the committee to wait for a response from United States Attorney General Eric Holder before changing location requirements

But Ezra Eickmeyer of the Washington Cannabis Association said the 1000-foot rule is too harsh, as it would forbid any marijuana businesses from being established in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“Availability here is going to be really, really important if you want people to stop buying from the black market,” Eickmeyer said.

HB 2000 also would require that those seeking licenses to sell marijuana purchase marketing certificates as a prerequisite to obtaining a license. The certificates would be sold to the highest bidder. The Liquor Control Board would be allowed set licensing fees and suspend  licenses upon businesses’ failure to pay penalties.

Holcomb expressed concern regarding the sale of certificates, as selling them to the highest bidder would drive them into the hands of large businesses. She said only allowing large businesses to sell marijuana could create a situation in which the product is marketed to minors.

“If we drive the licenses into the hands of ‘big marijuana’ we might end up with the same problems we have with bit big tobacco,” Holcomb said.

The bill must be passed out of the House Government Accountability & Oversight committee before heading to the House floor.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest, State Legislature | Topics: Alison Holcomb, I-502, marijuana


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