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Interview: The Washington Liquor and Cannabis State Board

Here's what we found about cannabis regulation in the state of Washington.

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For a little insight into the world of cannabis regulation, MERRY JANE had a Q&A with Becky Smith, Director of the Licensing and Regulation Division for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

MJ: How long does the average licensing process take, from application to approval?

“It depends on the readiness of the applicant and the backlog of the marijuana licensing investigator. On average, the time is approximately 120 days.”

MJ: What is the basic licensing process?

“The investigator will notify the local authority of the application and allow them 20 days to object, perform a criminal, financial and residence investigation of all true parties of interest on the license including their spouses. In many cases, the investigator holds the application while waiting for required documentation from the applicant. Once all documentation is filed, a final inspection of the premises is scheduled. If the location passes final inspection, the applicant pays the licensing fee and is issued a license.”

MJ: How many licenses do you reject? What is the most common reason for rejection?

“We are working on came from a 30-day window in late 2013 when we received over 7,000 applications for potential producers, processors and retailers. Of the over 7,000 applications we’ve received, we have withdrawn 2,880 applications for several reasons including: lack of follow through by the applicant to turn in required paperwork, failure to secure right to real property, and not being awarded an allotted lottery spot.”

MJ: Why would an application be placed on hold?

“When we began processing applications back in November 2013, we allowed the applicant to place themselves on hold so that we could process those applications when we/they were ready to proceed. Currently, we may place a hold at the request of retail applicants when their location is within a jurisdiction that has a ban or moratorium.”

MJ: What does a typical violation look like?

“There are no typical violations. We post Marijuana Enforcement and Education data on our website. Those violations fall into four categories: violations against public safety, regulatory violations, license violations and marijuana producer violations.”

MJ: How do you inspect license holders? What’s the process?

“For final inspections our officers have a checklist that they go over with the applicant. During the inspection the applicant must demonstrate that everything they put on paper in their application (security, layout, etc.) actually exists. After applicants have received their license they are assigned an enforcement officer (based on region) who periodically inspects the location, checks up on complaints, and provides education for licensees about laws and rules.”

MJ: Giving the new regulations that passed on September 23rd of this year, how much work is the transition from medical to medical and recreational licenses expected to involve?

“There will be an increase in workload as we transition unregulated medical marijuana businesses into the regulated system but the really heavy lifting was getting the regulated system up and running. With that system in place it makes integrating these businesses a simpler task.”

MJ: Are license holders for the most part compliant with the rules and reporting requirements?

“The overwhelming majority of our licensees are compliant with rules and regulations; you can find a list of marijuana violations on our website.  Those violations represent a small portion of our licensees and are often education visits that result in no administrative punishment.”

MJ: What portion of your time is spent on enforcement?

“Our enforcement officers have arrest powers and carry out enforcement operations such as compliance checks, complaint investigations, technical assistance visits, premises checks and undercover operations to ensure licensees are complying with state liquor, marijuana and tobacco laws.”

MJ: What form does licensing education take?

“As a licensing and regulatory agency our primary focus is on educating our licensees and applicants about how to follow the law and prevent illegal sales. We also work with the industry to ensure consumers get good information about the products they are purchasing. While we do some outreach with schools it is primarily the responsibility of the Washington State Dept. of Health. They receive funding to conduct several media campaigns aimed at facilitating dialogue between parents and school age students.”

MJ: Do personal feelings towards cannabis affect staff’s attitude towards enforcement and licensing?

“It is the agency’s responsibility to uphold the will of Washington’s voters and the laws of the state; it’s a responsibility employee’s take very seriously. Personal sentiment doesn’t play a factor in either enforcement or licensing. The LCB has received good marks from the industry, the media and many others for the manner in which we approached legalization. We have been working on it in some capacity since prior to the election three years ago.”

MJ: Do you feel Washington State’s choice to regulate both medical and recreational use of cannabis has been a good decision for the state?

“The initiative that legalized marijuana in Washington also earmarked funding for long-term studies/research on the effects of legalization, the first report (given one year after sales) emphasized that it is too early to draw any conclusions on benefits/negatives on the issue. From a basic numbers standpoint I can tell you that in just over a year the industry has generated over $100 million in tax revenue for the state and has not appeared to see any significant increase in crime but the other impacts (social, youth, perception of harm, etc.), if any, will take years before they become visible.”