Monday, July 7, 2014

First Licenses Issued for Retail Marijuana Shops

The wait is almost over. Early this morning the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) provided licenses to the first small group of 24 retail marijuana stores. It's been six long months for these applicants, who could open their doors and begin selling marijuana for recreational use as early as tomorrow, July 8, 2014. This will mark the first time that adults can legally purchase marijuana grown, processed, and sold by state-licensed businesses under I-502. (Keep in mind that marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, subject to federal prosecution and civil forfeiture.

First, a little background: the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) has been reviewing retail applicants based on the results of April’s retail license lottery (see map). The board announced its intention to issue retail licenses in groups of 10-30 beginning this week. We expect to see licenses issued for approximately another hundred stores during the next 30-60 days, and the remainder sometime in the fall.

The total number will likely fall short of the WSLCB's proposed 334 stores statewide. This discrepancy is due to a number of factors, including a lack of applicants in some jurisdictions and local zoning prohibitions. More details to follow.

Where will the first stores open?
On April 2, 2014 the WSLCB stated:  “The initial retail licenses will be issued in batches (10-20) in the most populous areas.”  First reports indicate 14 stores in western Washington and 10 stores in the eastern part of the state. By WSLCB rules, retail stores may be open 8:00 am – 12:00 midnight.

Why are there so few stores (and when will there be one in my neighborhood?)
The allocation of only 334 retail stores across the state was based on population and demand estimates prepared by BOTEC, a consulting team hired by the WSLCB shortly after I-502 passed.

Unfortunately, local zoning moratoriums and permanent bans significantly decrease the public's access to state-licensed, legal marijuana.  If you are curious about whether your own local government has banned marijuana or enacted a temporary zoning moratorium, a good place to start your search is the MRSC Marijuana Guide for Local Governments (although this page may not be up-to-date, since local marijuana zoning is changing weekly).

Note that although a county (Pierce) may ban marijuana sales, such a ban may not apply within the municipal limits of a city in that county (Tacoma).

How many stores will there be?
The WSLCB limited the state to 334 retail licenses, although we may have significantly less than that when all is said and done.  It's important to understand that the 334 licenses were allocated to specific cities or counties-at-large, so presumably, if a city institutes a ban, any licenses allocated to it would be removed from the equation, reducing the state-wide count.

Taking into account the current permanent and temporary bans, as well as jursidictions which failed to attract an initial applicant, we estimate the state-wide number to be closer to 250 retail stores.  This could change, however, if local jurisdictions lift their temporary bans or the WSLCB readjusts the allocation of licenses by jursidiction.

How much will marijuana cost?
Current prices for medical marijuana are roughly $8-12 per gram. General consensus is that when stores open, the starting price for recreational marijuana will be $12-25 per gram. This takes into account the additional overhead, excise taxes, and expected product shortages during the first year of sales.

On average, it takes 3-4 months to bring a crop to harvest, and the first producer’s license was issued on March 4, 2014. Do the math. This recent AP story about testing labs provides some data about the state-wide harvest so far. As of June 28, eleven producers had harvested and submitted samples for testing. The WSLCB has now licensed 79 producers, so the production rates will increase, in time.

Will they sell out?
Most likely.

How much marijuana can I buy?
Under Washington State Law, individuals over 21 years of age may buy up to one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of solid marijuana-infused product, 72 ounces of infused liquid, or 7 grams of concentrates. Sales of amounts in excess of transaction limits can result in the retailer’s immediate loss of license.

When the stores open on July 8, only usable marijuana will be available, as no extracted or infused products have been approved.

How much marijuana can I have on me?
An individual 21 years or older may possess no more than one ounce in Washington state. You may not take it over the border to Canada. Possessing more than one ounce may result in jail and fines.

An individual providing marijuana to an underage person may be punished with up to ten years imprisonment and up to $10,000 fine under state law. Penalty for a retailer selling to an underage person is a 10-day suspension or $2,500 fine (first offense).

Can I smoke it or use it anywhere I want?
Opening a package of marijuana or consuming marijuana within view of the public is a civil infraction and you may receive a ticket and a fine of up to $100. Individuals consuming marijuana should be on their own property, or on the property of someone who permits consumption.

What are the limits for legal driving?
If an officer suspects someone of driving impaired, he may obtain a search warrant for a blood sample. Drivers with blood tests that show more than 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of whole blood will be charged with a DUI – regardless of the driver’s performance on other sobriety tests.

One study compared the 5 nanogram THC limit to an equivalent 0.05 percent blood-alcohol level, less than the state DUI limit for alcohol in Washington. In short, do not drive if you are even slightly impaired. 

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