By Garrett Rudolph
The more I read about the topic of marijuana legalization, speak with people who are directly involved in the process and think about what it all means on a national scale, the more convinced I am that regulating the legal cannabis industry is too big of a task for the agencies currently involved.
It’s too big of a task to throw it on the plate of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which already had the significant responsibility of regulating alcohol.
I understand the premise of legalizing marijuana and regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol. It makes sense to lump all our favorite legal intoxicants together. But the fact of the matter is that marijuana is not regulated like alcohol.
The eight-foot high fences, the security systems, the level of insurance, the rigid seed-to-sale tracking requirements, the testing. The list goes on and on. There’s really no comparison to the level of regulation between alcohol and cannabis.
Cannabis, as attorney Jeffrey Steinborn is apt to say, is regulated more like plutonium than booze.
Furthermore, the banning of most chemicals and pesticides means state-licensed, Washington-grown cannabis will likely be more organic than just about anything you can buy at Whole Foods, and definitely more organic than the vast majority of Washington’s other agricultural products. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of the movement toward organic produce and a reduction of potentially harmful chemicals in farming — but why implement such standards for marijuana (that is to be consumed only by local adults) and forgo those standards for, say, apples (which are eaten by young and old alike throughout the world)?
So marijuana is not regulated like alcohol — nor should it be, in my opinion.
Then why lump them together under the jurisdiction of the same agency?
Two reasons most likely. One is convenience. The other is the language of Initiative 502, which was presented to voters in a way that would appeal to the masses, rather than the most ideal setup for long-term success.
I had the opportunity to speak for more than an hour last month with Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board (the high points of which can be found starting on Page 9). His agency is overloaded with the task at hand.
Although I think they’re doing the best they can, there’s no doubt the Liquor Control Board has made some mistakes along the way. Like all government agencies, I think transparency should be a top priority, and even more so when the government is requiring license applicants to be open books. It’s one of the most frequent complaints I hear — a lack of communication and a feeling that some of the rules and regulations are being implemented without full disclosure to the public.
But the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with the Liquor Control Board.
The size and scope of creating, installing and maintaining a regulatory system for cannabis should be put on the plate of an agency with that task as its sole responsibility.
And I haven’t even touched on the giant elephant in the room — medical marijuana. At some point, I believe Washington’s medical marijuana industry will have to be regulated, perhaps in a manner similar to the system Colorado has in place. That change will have to happen sooner rather than later, and potentially a whole new set of regulations will be put in place, another round of license applications and an already ballooning workload on the Liquor Control Board expanding even more.
Before moving too far down the road, Washington needs to create an agency dedicated to regulating marijuana businesses. I’m not sure if that would require action by the state legislature or if the governor has the power to create that agency.
Call it the Cannabis Control Board, the Marijuana Regulatory Committee or the Department of Weed for all I care. No matter what it’s called, the success or failure of I-502 could depend upon it.