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In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters made history when they approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington Initiative 502 “authorizes the state liquor board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age or older.”Since the vote in Washington, the Liquor Board has written a complex set of rules for the state’s new, legal recreational cannabis marketplace. The agency has also set limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown. And the Board has begun to license growers, processors and retailers.For now, the Obama administration has signaled it will not interfere with Washington and Colorado’s legal pot experiment, unless there is evidence that legal pot is “leaking” to other states or children are getting access to the legal product. The feds are also watching to see if criminal organizations exploit the legal market.The first marijuana retail stores in Washington opened in July 2014.Recreational marijuana is also set to become legal in Oregon on July 1, 2015 after voters approved Measure 91 in November 2014.

Washington Pot Forum Draws Standing Room Crowd

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. –The first public forum on how to implement Washington’s new marijuana law drew a capacity crowd Tuesday night in Olympia. The state’s Liquor Control Board is seeking input as it writes the rules for enacting Initiative 502 – Washington’s new pot legalization law.

They arrived early and in droves – the smell of marijuana clung in the air. First in line to get a seat for the forum was Leslie Tikka of Olympia. She mainly came to see a bit of history in the making.

“I’ve thought about getting a license and holding it because I think it would be valuable because no one knows what’s going to happen with it," Tikka said. "But I don’t think I’d want to go in production. I don’t know enough.”

Inside, Liquor Control Board chair Sharon Foster had one reaction to the standing room only crowd: “wow.”

“We obviously underestimated how many people would choose to be here," she added.

Foster told the audience Washington is about to go where no other state has gone before. The task over the next year: create a complex system to license marijuana producers, processors and sellers. And the audience had plenty of advice.

Justin Pitts came to Olympia all the way from Spokane. He has a felony conviction for pot and said that shouldn’t disqualify him from getting a license.

“I’m one of the casualties that at 20 years old I got caught with a backpack full of pot and became a felon from it," Pitts explains. "Twenty years later now I’ve no other convictions, no problem, have multiple businesses and pay lots of taxes but yet I would be barred.”

Other suggestions: license as many producers as qualify in order to flood out the black market. Survey the public to see how much pot will be needed to meet demand – and then double it. Take into account the environmental impact of marijuana production.

It was mostly a ball caps and t-shirt crowd. But there was one guy in a pinstripe suit. Jamen Shively is a former Microsoft strategist. Now he plans to open high-end marijuana retail shops.

“Our target market is baby boomers and so you’re going to have a lot of baby boomers. Maybe they tried the product 40 years ago, maybe they didn’t inhale," Shively says. "Well, now it’s safe to inhale. And the product has changed a lot.”

Shively was getting to know the fellow sitting next to him – a grower. Perhaps a business partnership in the making? An hour into the forum, the packed room felt hot enough to grow marijuana right there. The Liquor Control Board has five more public meetings scheduled around the state and plans to add more dates as needed.

On the Web:

Public Forums on I-502 Implementation (Washington Liquor Control Board)
Initiative 502 - full text (Washington Secretary of State)

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."