OLYMPIA — The Washington State Liquor Control Board has proposed limits on the number of stores for each county and large city. But some Washington counties and cities have passed ordinances blocking any marijuana businesses from operating within their boundaries.
The board says it will still issue licenses to qualified applicants in those locations, but it will be up to the license holder to challenge the local government’s restriction and obtain a local business license. That sets up potential legal battles between a state-licensed store and reluctant city.
“Ultimately, it’s an issue between the applicant and local jurisdiction,” said Alan Rathburn, the board’s licensing director.
Chris Marr, a liquor board member, said many local governments are primarily concerned about running afoul of federal law, which still classifies marijuana as illegal for all uses. Last week’s memo from the Justice Department — which said it would not enforce federal restrictions in states with voter-approved recreational marijuana laws — may allay some concerns, he said, and a review of the state’s tight rules prohibiting sales to children may also help.
“Early on, there may be some access problems,” Marr said.
The agency also faces a legal challenge from a coalition representing medical marijuana operations that contends it has not followed state environmental laws in setting up its regulations. That challenge has a hearing in Thurston County Superior Court next week.
Among the changes to rules given tentative approval Wednesday is a limit of three licenses for any person or business in any of the main categories — growing, processing or retailing. A person may hold three growing licenses and three processing licenses, but growers or processors will not be able to hold any retailing licenses. The board also set the limit on the number of retail licenses a person or company can hold in a county or city.
Limiting the number of licenses is a way to keep the market from being dominated “by a few larger players,” Marr said. It should also encourage the stores to be dispersed throughout the state.
The new proposed rules set a limit for the total amount of recreational marijuana to be produced in the state each year and the total amount of space available for growing in the state. Marijuana growers will be ranked by size into different tiers, but no licensee will be able to grow plants on more than 30,000 square feet — about two-thirds of an acre.
Jeremy Moberg of the Okanogan Cannabis Association said such caps favor indoor growers, who can get four or five crops a year in their allotted space, over outdoor operations that can produce one or two. Indoor grows use more energy and have greater pollution problems than outdoor grows, he said.
The sizes are so small that most growers will try to maximize their yields, which also can lead to bad environmental practices, he said. The agency previously said it would allow outdoor grows as a way of mitigating the energy and pollution concerns over indoor growing operations, but the new rules favor indoor growers so much that the agency may need to develop an environmental impact statement, he said.
“I think they’ve made it more difficult than it needs to be,” Moberg said.