By Steve Guntli
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) announced new rules that would license new recreational marijuana retail applicants and allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to become aligned with the existing retail system.
On September 23, the WSLCB issued the emergency rules, which would allow applicants to apply for a retail license that may sell both recreational and medical marijuana products. Existing recreational retailers would also be able to apply for a medical endorsement to sell medical marijuana to qualified patients.
Unlike the original I-502 implementation scheme, no initial restriction will be placed on the number of retailers licensed. In the first go-around, the number of retailers was capped and a lottery was held to determine who would be able to apply for a license. There were seven retail spots in unincorporated Whatcom County: two applicants from Point Roberts failed to place high enough in the lottery results and were unable to proceed in the licensing process. Under the new rules, conceivably a license could be obtained in Point Roberts. However, a separate applicant would still need to apply for a producer/processor license in order to supply product to the retailer as it is still illegal to bring marijuana through the Canadian and U.S. borders.
The new rules were instituted in response to the Cannabis Patient Protection Act passed this year to ensure medical marijuana outlets are regulated in a similar fashion to recreational retailers.
Medical marijuana outlets, also known as dispensaries, must be licensed by July 1, 2016 or face closure by local authorities. WCLSB chair Jane Rushford said the new laws represent the beginning of the next phase of legal marijuana in Washington.
“If phase one was implementation of the recreational marijuana marketplace then today marks the beginning of phase two –the public process of aligning the medical marijuana system with the existing recreational system,” she said.
The board will begin accepting applications on October 12.
The new rules establish a hierarchy for licensing priorities. Under these new rules, applicants who applied for a retail marijuana license prior to July 1, 2014 will receive first priority. Second priority goes to applicants who owned or operated a collective garden prior to January 1, 2013, have a steady history of paying all state taxes and fees and have maintained local business licenses. Applicants who don’t meet either of the above criteria will be given third priority.
Six public hearings will be held around the state, starting in November. These hearings will give the public the opportunity to comment on the new regulations. The first of these meetings is tentatively scheduled for November 3 in Spokane. For a full list of hearings, visit lcb.wa.gov/mj2015/marijuana-2015.
In a separate action, the WSLCB also decided to ease the restrictions on growers. Under the old laws, licensed producers were only permitted to grow at 70 percent of their capacity. The laws were an attempt to prevent overproduction and stay within the limits of the recreational demand. Pending WSCLB staff approval, license holders will be able to grow to 100 percent of their capacity, in order to keep up with the projected demand that accompanies the new medical/recreational outlets.