Washington Pot Forum Draws Standing Room Crowd

By Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. –The first public forum on how to implement Washington’s new marijuana law drew a capacity crowd Tuesday night in Olympia. The state’s Liquor Control Board is seeking input as it writes the rules for enacting Initiative 502 – Washington’s new pot legalization law.

Justin Pitts runs a cannabis testing lab in Spokane.They arrived early and in droves – the smell of marijuana clung in the air. First in line to get a seat for the forum, Leslie Tikka of Olympia. She mainly came to see a bit of history in the making.

Leslie Tikka: “I’ve thought about getting a license and holding it because I think it would be valuable because no one knows what’s going to happen with it. But I don’t think I’d want to go in production. I don’t know enough.”

Inside, Liquor Control Board chair Sharon Foster had one reaction to the standing room only crowd: “wow.”

Sharon Foster: “We obviously underestimated how many people would choose to be here.”

Foster told the audience Washington is about to go where no other state has gone before. The task over the next year: create a complex system to license marijuana producers, processors and sellers. The audience had plenty of advice. Justin Pitts came to Olympia all the way from Spokane. He has a felony conviction for pot and said that shouldn’t disqualify him from getting a license.

Justin Pitts: “I’m one of the casualties that at 20 years old I got caught with a backpack full of pot and became a felon from it. Twenty years later now I’ve no other convictions, no problem, have multiple businesses and pay lots of taxes but yet I would be barred.”

Other suggestions: license as many producers as qualify in order to flood out the black market. Survey the public to see how much pot will be needed to meet demand – and then double it. Take into account the environmental impact of marijuana production. It was mostly a ball caps and t-shirt crowd. But there was one guy in a pinstripe suit. Jamen Shively is a former Microsoft strategist. Now he plans to open high end marijuana retail shops.

Jamen Shively: “Our target market is baby boomers and so you’re going to have a lot of baby boomers. Maybe they tried the product 40 years ago, maybe they didn’t inhale. Well, now it’s safe to inhale. And the product has changed a lot.”

Shively was getting to know the fellow sitting next to him – a grower. Perhaps a business partnership in the making? An hour into the forum, the packed room felt hot enough to grow marijuana right there. The Liquor Control Board has five more public meetings scheduled around the state and plans to add more dates as needed.

On the web: http://www.lcb.wa.gov/marijuana/public-forums

Photo: Justin Pitts runs a cannabis testing lab in Spokane. He says a felony conviction for pot should not prevent someone from becoming a licensed grower or seller in Washington. By Austin Jenkins.

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