In a change of course, expansive outdoor pot-growing would be allowed under proposed rules for state-regulated recreational marijuana.
The move to permit field-grown pot is the biggest difference between initial draft rules and proposed rules unanimously approved Wednesday by the three-member Liquor Control Board.
Other changes include shortening the hours of operation for retail pot stores to 16 hours a day, adding childproof packaging for some products and dropping a label for all pot products that showed a silhouette of Washington state with a pot leaf in its center.
The new wrinkles were driven mainly by public feedback to the early draft proposal.
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The liquor board, the state agency charged with creating a seed-to-store pot system, will take public comment for 30 days more and hold four hearings in early August, tentatively scheduled for the Olympia, Seattle, Ellensburg and Spokane areas.
The decision to allow outdoor growing was hailed as good for the environment by the Okanogan Cannabis Association, a group that has highlighted the heavy carbon footprint of indoor pot production and touted the benefits of sun-grown weed.
State officials had initially prohibited field-grown pot because of concerns about security and the federal government, which considers all marijuana illegal.
Early rules only allowed growing indoors or in greenhouses with rigid walls and doors.
In the new version, cultivation also could occur in nonrigid greenhouses or fields enclosed by a wall or fence at least 8-feet high. Outdoor grows must also have video surveillance that captures any activities within 20 feet of the grow’s perimeter.
“How is an eight-foot cyclone fence with security cameras any less secure,” said board member Chris Marr, “than a corrugated steel building?”
Board members stressed other public-safety requirements of the proposed rules: Safeguards include on-site security for all grows; traceability software that tracks pot from start to sale; criminal-background checks on all license applicants; and restrictions on advertising targeted at children.
In the realm of consumer protection, the rules call for labels that include dosage and warnings, lab-testing of products and defined serving sizes for edible products.
Officials acknowledged that rules likely will be adjusted as the state’s system — untested on the planet — is put into practice.
They also admitted that uncertainties remain, such as how to allow the sale of marijuana concentrates and whether to limit the size of state-licensed growing operations.
Board members want to allow the stand-alone sale of concentrates, such as hash oil. But they believe the law unintentionally defines sellable marijuana in a way that excludes concentrates.
Marr said the best solution would be for legislators to amend the law to permit concentrate sales. “But we can’t bank on that happening next year,” he said.
In the meantime, agency staff members are trying to come up with a workaround plan for concentrates.
Alison Holcomb, chief author of the new pot law, urged the board to create three tiers for licensed growers — small, medium and large — as a way to keep big players from dominating the field.
“We’ll take a look,” said agency Director Rick Garza. “I think we need a little more time.”
State officials will not set prices for the recreational system, which imposes a 25 percent tax on producers, processors and retailers. They said they hope the recreational system can sell pot for roughly $10 to $12 a gram.
The rules do not specify the number of stores that will be allowed, nor do they cap the number of stores any one entity can own.
Marr expressed concern about store ownership becoming concentrated in the hands of a few players with deep pockets.
But he said he heard little public comment about limits on store ownership.
The agency plans to adopt rules in mid-August and begin issuing licenses for producers, processors and retailers in December. Customers, in theory, will be able to walk into stores next spring and buy heavily taxed forms of marijuana, from buds to brownies, tinctures to topical oils.
The state’s top pot consultant, Mark Kleiman, said 95 percent of his group’s work is complete. The main remaining piece is an estimate of pot consumption in each of the state’s counties. Once they have that estimate, state officials can better determine the number of retail stores and total amount of pot needed to meet demand.
Kleiman said he was impressed by the state’s approach to legalization. “It’s in the top five-percentile of what I imagined,” he said.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the proposed rules reflect a disciplined, responsible system.
Inslee suggested that he helped nix the state label because it was inconsistent with the image of the Evergreen State “where we’re known for Western hemlocks and glaciers and mountains, rather than a particular leaf.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org