A key lawmaker is proposing changes to Washington’s new legal-marijuana law, saying the state can squeeze a lot more money out of people who want to participate in the recreational-pot marketplace.
Democratic Rep. Christopher Hurst, of Enumclaw, who leads the House committee that oversees cannabis, says the state will be leaving “money on the table” unless it increases the fees required to obtain a license to grow, process or sell marijuana.
Hurst introduced a bill Tuesday that would create a new “certificate” to be issued by the Liquor Control Board as a precursor to obtaining those licenses, and it would require the board to set the price of the certificate at no less than fair-market value. It’s unclear what fair-market value would be, but it’s safe to say it would be a lot more than the $250 application fee now required by Initiative 502.
The state is facing a “billion-dollar mandate” to improve education spending, Hurst said in a news release, and “it would be foolish to leave money on the table in the face of a daunting number like that.”
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Hurst’s bill also would allow marijuana businesses to be closer to parks, day-care facilities and schools — 500 feet instead of 1,000. He has previously suggested that the 1,000-foot rule is too strict because it could preclude pot shops from opening in urban areas, thus forcing people to travel farther to buy pot, cutting sales and state tax revenue.
Amending a voter-approved initiative in the first two years after passage requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.
Alison Holcomb, the author of I-502 and the drug-policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said she had concerns about Hurst’s bill.
Jacking up the cost of participating in the legal market is especially troubling, she said.
“One of the goals of I-502 is to bring the illicit market under regulatory oversight,” Holcomb said. “There are hundreds of people who are growing illicitly, and who want to participate in the regulated market. If we make it prohibitively expensive for them to do so, they’re going to continue to grow illicitly.”
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the U.S. Department of Justice has not said whether it will sue in an effort to block the licensing schemes.