Whatcom County could get 15 marijuana stores under state rules

Posted by JIM DONALDSON on September 4, 2013 

Fifteen stores in Whatcom County would be allowed to sell marijuana for recreational use beginning next year, under new rules approved Wednesday, Sept. 4, by the Washington Liquor Control Board.

The Liquor Control Board also requires a warning label for each bag of marijuana sold: "Warning: This product has intoxicating effects and can be habit forming."

The revised rules also define where the stores can be located and - in an apparent bid to limit pot franchises or large-scale enterprises - won't allow anyone to have more than three licenses in each of the producer, processor and retail categories.

"We want to avoid a market dominated by large players, which could drive up prices and encourage aggressive marketing," board member Chris Marr said.

Retail stores would be allocated by 2010 population data. According to the revised rules, seven stores would be allowed in Whatcom County, six in Bellingham and one each in Lynden and Ferndale. Seattle would get the most with 21 stores; King County would get 61 stores. Skagit County would be allowed 10 stores.

Those are the maximum allowed number of stores. The actual number that will open may be lower because of local zoning, market demand and other factors. Stores still would need to meet local business requirements.

Under the rules, total pot production statewide is capped at 40 metric tons, or roughly 25 percent of the total state market for legal recreational, medical and black market marijuana. The cap, in turn, helped determine the number of stores and limits on the amount of marijuana that growers could produce. Pot-growing facilities could not exceed 30,000 square feet.

"These rules fulfill the public expectation of creating a tightly-regulated and controlled system while providing reasonable access to participation in the market, said board chair Sharon Foster. "We believe these rules meet the eight federal government enforcement priorities within (last) Thursday's guidance memo from the Department of Justice."

The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it would not sue Washington or Colorado over plans to tax and regulate pot sales for adults as long as the states adhere to the federal priorities that include preventing drugged driving and keeping marijuana away from kids and off the black market.

The Justice Department said strong state regulatory systems could actually enhance federal law enforcement goals by keeping marijuana profits from cartels.

The board in July had filed proposed rules, which it revised after five public hearings. There is a 30-day public comment period before the rules are finally adopted. Public hearings on the revised rules will be held Oct. 9, though no locations have been announced yet.

If the rules are adopted in mid-October as expected, licenses could be issued by mid-December with stores opening as early as next June.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

• To read a copy of the proposed rules, click here.

• For more information on how the state is going to implement Initative 502, approved by voters last year, go to liq.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502.

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