Trying to fold medical marijuana into Washington’s regulated recreational system, state officials approved a plan to add up to 222 more pot stores. But some retailers say there’s too much risk in selling medical products.
State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) members approved a new rule Wednesday allowing up to 222 more legal pot stores in an effort to bring medical-marijuana patients into Washington’s regulated recreational system.
Board members say the new stores should provide adequate access to patients as medical-marijuana dispensaries head toward a July 1 extinction date.
Allotted 21 stores in the state’s initial licensing scheme, Seattle could see double that with the new plan. King County could get 53 new stores in all. Statewide the number of stores could increase from 334 to 556.
But some licensed retailers say that serving medical patients appears too risky under state rules and they’ll shy away, suggesting the state plan may not work as envisioned.
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“We’re terrified of employees screwing up and committing a felony,” said Logan Bowers, co-owner of Seattle’s Hashtag store.
Bowers pointed to a couple of challenges under the rules. As the law now stands, no one under 21 can enter a pot store or buy legal pot. But medical patients 18 and over will be able to buy under new rules. What’s more, patients under 18 can enter stores with a designated provider, who can buy for the patient.
Bowers worries that store budtenders may err in checking age or medical credentials, or in whom they sell to. That could lead to a felony charge against a budtender and a canceled store license, he said.
Insurers may be less likely to serve stores, he said, because of the potential liability issues arising with selling medical products that may or may not work as intended. “That means taking on the liability ourselves or taking the risk and having higher premiums,” he said.
It’s premature to think many retailers won’t get into the medical business, said Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington Cannabusiness Association.
Approximately 70 percent of the 226 retailers the LCB has licensed have already applied to sell medical marijuana, said agency spokesman Brian Smith. “We heard from a handful today,” he said of Bowers and other retailers who testified Wednesday.
The emergency rule concerning new stores takes effect immediately but could still be revised.
Also Wednesday, the LCB approved other revisions to rules that could take effect as early as March 24, after public hearings and another vote.
The most significant change would allow out-of-state financiers in legal pot business. Washington now has a six-month-residency requirement.
Hilary Bricken, a lawyer who specializes in pot business, welcomed the change. “It’s a financial godsend for some people who couldn’t find funding otherwise,” Bricken said.
Bricken said the state had been reluctant to allow out-of-staters for fear it would provoke the federal government, which considers all marijuana illegal. The feds have allowed states such as Washington to go ahead with legalization experiments but have forbidden interstate pot commerce.
Financiers would still be subject to an FBI background check, said the LCB’s Smith, and the agency would have to approve funding from out of state.