OLYMPIA — With little fanfare in a drab conference room, the state Liquor Control Board adopted rules for a legal marijuana system after 10 months of research, revisions, wrangling with the federal government and wrestling with who-would’ve-imagined questions.
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, state officials charted the course for an experiment that seeks to undercut illegal dealers and launched the next leg of the journey: licensing a recreational-pot industry serving customers with 334 retail stores.
Adults will be able to walk into stores between 8 a.m. and midnight beginning next year to buy small amounts of marijuana products, including buds and brownies produced with state-certified safe levels of pesticides and other chemicals.
“The Washington state Liquor Control Board just built the template for responsible legalization of marijuana,” said Alison Holcomb, chief author of the legal-pot law. Holcomb is traveling to England, Poland and the Netherlands in coming weeks to discuss Washington’s law and rules, and is part of a new panel studying the idea in California.
Liquor-board members predicted a bumpy ride for the next year or so, with further tweaking of the rules likely.
“We might not have it exactly right today,” said board member Chris Marr of the 43 pages of rules. “But we’re in an excellent position to open stores in the middle of next year.”
State officials expect stores to open as early as May. Farms would start growing several months earlier.
In those stores, marked by a single sign that can’t be much bigger than 3 feet by 3 feet under the rules, consumers won’t be able to sample products. They will be able, however, to smell samples through screened containers that do not allow them to touch pot.
Childproof packaging will be required for edible products. All packages will contain warning labels saying marijuana has intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming. Labels will warn consumers of health risks, particularly the risks for pregnant women.
They also will show potency, as measured in percentage of THC, the key psychoactive chemical in pot.
In what state officials hope will be a competitive edge for the recreational system, retail stores will stock only products determined to have safe levels of pesticides, bacteria, moisture and metals.
Randy Simmons, the state marijuana project director, said he’s heard of growers who have added sand to pot to give it additional weight, who have painted pot to make it more desirably purple, and who have spiked buds with hash oil to make them more potent.
Jeremy Moberg, an Okanogan County activist, and Holcomb, criminal-justice director for the ACLU of Washington, both argued for a more equitable system. They proposed limiting indoor farms to half the size of outdoor farms as one way to level the playing field.
But Simmons said the state wants to make sure it meets the estimated demand for 80 metric tons of pot next year. It might not if it cut the size of indoor farms, he said, and if it doubled the size of outdoor farms it might antagonize federal watchdogs.