Massachusetts firm will advise state on legal pot

The Associated PressMarch 19, 2013 

Washington state has tentatively chosen a Massachusetts-based firm led by a UCLA professor to be its official marijuana consultant.

Botec Analysis Corp., based in Cambridge, has evaluated government programs and provided consulting relating to drug abuse, crime and public health. Losing bidders for the contract can protest the award, but if it stands, Botec will advise state officials as they develop rules for the new industry of legal, taxed marijuana.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board scheduled an announcement on the award of the contract for this morning, but it sent an email to losing bidders Monday letting them know who won. A copy of the email was provided to The Associated Press.

Botec is headed by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA. Kleiman declined to comment Monday afternoon, saying he did not want to pre-empt the board’s public announcement.

Washington and Colorado last year became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults 21 and older can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis.

Sales are expected to begin at the end of the year at the earliest.

The votes left state officials with a daunting task: building a huge pot industry from scratch. The state’s Liquor Control Board must determine how many growers and stores there should be, how much pot should be produced, how it should be packaged, and how it should be tested to ensure people don’t get sick.

The board is doing a lot of its own research, with bureaucrats traveling to grow operations in California and Colorado as well as within Washington state, but input from the consultant will also be key. The state is aiming to produce just enough marijuana to meet current demand: Producing too little would drive up prices and help the black market flourish, while producing too much could lead to excess pot being trafficked out of state.

All the while, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department still has not announced whether it will sue in an effort to block the licensing schemes from taking effect.

The board has advertised for consulting services in four categories. The first is “product and industry knowledge” and requires “at least three years of consulting experience relating to the knowledge of the cannabis industry, including but not limited to product growth, harvesting, packaging, product infusion and product safety.”

Other categories cover quality testing, including how to test for levels of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high; statistical analysis of how much marijuana the state’s licensed growers should produce; and the development of regulations, a category that requires a “strong understanding of state, local or federal government processes,” with a law degree preferred.

Botec, founded in the mid-1980s, has previously performed a variety of work with government agencies. It studied the results of an effort to crack down on heroin dealers in Lynn, Mass., and in the early 1990s advised the Office of National Drug Control Policy on drug-demand reduction programs.

Kleiman has written several books on drug policy and crime, including “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.”

Khurshid Khoja, a corporate lawyer from San Francisco, was involved in a bid that included Ed Rosenthal, a co-founder of High Times magazine and a recognized expert on marijuana cultivation. Khoja said he was disappointed not to get the contract and was mulling a protest, not necessarily to challenge Botec’s win but to learn where his team’s bid fell short.

Regardless, Khoja said, he hopes Washington and Colorado’s laws are allowed to stand.

“Hopefully the feds will cooperate so Washington won’t be sending money down the drain,” he said.

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