A pot-leaf T-shirt here and there notwithstanding, the state Liquor Control Board’s town-hall-style meeting Thursday on how to implement marijuana legalization wasn’t much different than any large government-hosted public forum.
In fact, it was more civil than many county zoning hearings over the past decade. The meeting, the seventh of eight hosted by the Liquor Control Board, was designed to help the board craft a system for the legal production and sale of marijuana as authorized by voters last fall.
Judging by applause for pro-marijuana speakers, most of the crowd was happy about the legalization. But there was also applause for those opposing legalization and those who urged caution in implementing the new law approved by voters last fall.
Public safety was a primary concern among speakers of both stripes during the hearing, which drew about 300 people to the Yakima Convention Center. About 40 of them spoke, as the crowd dwindled to a few dozen before the meeting’s end.
One speaker suggested that marijuana growing operations be kept indoors and several others asked that they be kept away from schools. And more speakers emphasized that the sale and advertising should be tightly controlled.
“Be responsible, as a grower, as a processor, as a business person,” urged Peggy Gutierrez, coordinator of the Columbia County Drug Free Community Coalition. “Do I like the law? No. But it’s here and we have to deal with it.”
William Smith, who said he is set to launch a Grandview growing operation called Star Leafed Tree Producing and Processing, told the three members of the state board his top concern was that the state not regulate small, boutique marijuana growers out of business. In an interview, he said he has been growing medical marijuana on-and-off for years and is now waiting for the guidelines to be set so he can apply for a commercial marijuana grower’s license. He compared his business model to that of a microbrewery or a small, local distillery.
“We’d like to be known as the Sam Adams of marijuana,” Smith said.
Gary Cox, who owns Cox Canyon Vineyards outside of Ellensburg, said agritourism for marijuana aficionados could follow the same model it does for wine tasters. Washington state could be “the Amsterdam of the West” he said, after joking that the Liquor Control Board change its name to the Washington state Loves Cannabis Board. It would still be the same initials.
“You wouldn’t even have to change your letterhead,” Cox said.
But, like Smith, he urged the board to craft its rules in a way that would allow small marijuana operations to compete with large ones.
“My plea to you is to not allow agribusiness to dictate the rules and squeeze out small producers,” Cox said.
Meanwhile, a Yakama Nation attorney threw an interesting wrinkle into the proceedings when he raised a question about how state marijuana regulation applies to tribal lands.
George Colby, a local attorney representing the Yakama Nation, says the tribal government wants the state Liquor Control Board to ensure that regulated marijuana activity does not occur within the reservation boundary or lands ceded under the 1855 treaty.
Colby says Washington voters didn’t have the authority to approve such activity on Yakama lands, which he estimated cover one-fifth of the state.
“We ask you to honor that when you carve out the lands of the Yakama Indian Reservation from your regulation,” he said.
The Yakama Nation would bring legal challenges against any licenses granted for marijuana growth or sale on its land, he said in an interview after his remarks.
Gathering that sort of input is why the Liquor Control Board set up the public meetings, agency spokesman Brian Smith said before the meeting started.
“We haven’t been involved in the marijuana business,” Smith said. “A lot of these people have been involved either illegally or as growers in the medical marijuana market.”
The final Liquor Control Board meeting on the issue is set for March 7 in Bremerton.
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Staff writer Mark Morey contributed to this report.