State’s marijuana consultants finishing up work

Staff writerJuly 3, 2013 

Here’s one scenario for how Washington’s new taxed and regulated marijuana stores could be distributed:

In King County, 61 stores. Another 31 in Pierce County and 11 in Thurston County. A total of 332 around the state, with at least one in each of the state’s 39 counties.

That’s one of several possibilities that consultants have presented to the state Liquor Control Board in recent weeks, according to documents obtained by The News Tribune through a public records request. They are based on preliminary data that the consultants are trying to refine as they help the board implement Initiative 502 by asking questions like this one:

“I would be willing to pay $ (blank) per gram more for sinsemilla (high potency marijuana) that is legal, packaged, labeled, tested for pesticides and other contaminants, and sold in an I-502 licensed store relative to what I would pay for black market sinsemilla of the same average potency.”

That’s from an online survey the consultants have posted as they try to estimate the marijuana users in each county and how many will shift from the black market or medical-marijuana system to the new heavily taxed and regulated stores approved by voters and expected to open for business as early as March.

The survey, available at www.mjsurvey.org, and another one for marijuana growers, available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/DCH6YXK, represent some of the last work being done by the consultants.

“We’re packing up,” lead consultant Mark Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Wednesday. “We have delivered more than 95 percent of what we were contracted for. We’ve got a couple of surveys still out in the field.”

Kleiman’s group, BOTEC Analysis Corp., is making “estimates of the size of the market, estimates of how many stores that would support, some estimates with respect to costs and how those costs would vary with the size of the producers,” and other matters.

Legal pot might sell for $10 to $12 a gram, according to one estimate, but the state will let the market work out prices. The consultants estimate — based on the preliminary data that will be updated — that Washingtonians consume about 165 metric tons of weed a year.

If perhaps a quarter of users were to shift to the new system by its second year of operation, that could mean up to $495 million in sales.

Spreading that among about 330 stores, each selling about $1.5 million worth of marijuana, would make legal marijuana about as accessible as liquor was under the pre-2012 state-run monopoly.

All of those guesses still are works in progress. But some details about how to distribute the stores became more concrete Wednesday as the board issued a new draft of its proposed rules.

There were few surprises in the draft, which is due to be turned into a final set of rules Aug. 14 after a series of public hearings. It proposes assigning slots for stores to larger cities based on population. Other “at large” slots could be filled by stores anywhere in the county.

If applications for a city or for at-large slots in a county outnumber the assigned amount for that area, the board would choose applicants using a lottery.

A big question mark involves what would happen if cities or counties don’t want the stores or the growing and processing operations.

The board shed some light Wednesday by saying that if a local authority objects to an application that still is being processed by the board, the applicant will have a chance to change their location.

Among the other proposals:

  • Plants can be grown in an enclosed building or greenhouse — or outdoors, as long as the area is blocked from sight by a wall or fence at least 8 feet tall.
  • A retail store could operate between 8 a.m. and midnight, a change from an earlier draft that called for 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. hours.
  • Retail buyers could sniff, but not sample, marijuana at the stores. However, processors and retailers could sample the drug while negotiating a price from a grower or processor.
  • Child-proof packaging would be required for marijuana infused food or drink, with special seals and caps.
  • Growers, processors and retailers would have to use security alarms, identification badges and 24-hour camera surveillance with recordings kept for 45 days and available for viewing on demand by state regulators and law enforcement.
  • Marijuana would be tracked throughout the system, starting with tracking devices placed on plants before they reach 8 inches tall.
  • Extracts, such as hashish, could be sold only if infused into an oil or other substance.
  • Applicants and their financiers would go through background checks.
  • Advertising would be restricted in location and content. Ads couldn’t mislead, appeal to children, promote over-consumption or claim marijuana has therapeutic effects.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826
jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com
blog.thenewstribune.com/politics
@Jordan_Schrader

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