State’s methodical way forward

July 9, 2013 

Members of the state Liquor Control Board and its staff find themselves in control of laying the foundation for a potential billion-dollar marijuana industry. None of the board’s three appointed members or the agency’s several hundred employees assumed their positions expecting to lead the nation toward regulating the production, distribution and retailing of pot.

But there they are, thrust into a challenging task the whole world is watching.

Judging by its work so far, the LCB is proving more than capable for this tricky assignment. It has proceeded carefully and thoughtfully every step of the way, an observation confirmed by its release of final draft rules last week.

There were no game-changing surprises in those rules, which will get a thorough public hearing in August and become final by the Sept. 16 deadline. The small changes to the agency’s latest version of how to implement last fall’s voter-approved Initiative 502, however, show it has been listening to citizens and its own official pot consultant.

Proponents of outdoor growing operations made a convincing case why the LCB should rewrite its original rule for indoor-only production. It relied heavily on two arguments: security and climate change.

The existing illegal growing operations in Washington mostly take place indoors, consuming an estimated 3 percent to 5 percent of the state electrical grid power, according to the Okanogan Cannabis Association. The national Journal of Energy Policy estimates indoor pot growers consume 1 percent of the nation’s power usage.

By allowing — perhaps even encouraging — solar powered growing, the state should experience a corresponding reduction in electrical demand, and a reduction in carbon emissions. That makes the pot policy consistent with Gov. Jay Inslee’s and President Barack Obama’s climate change strategies.

And the LCB could find no reason why, given specific security requirements — right down to the resolution of cameras and height of fences — an outdoor operation would give “up anything in terms of public safety.”

It’s a long road to full implementation of I-502, and the federal Department of Justice has yet to reveal whether it will complicate the Washington experiment by enforcing federal laws. The LCB’s methodical and thoughtful approach could figure significantly into the DOJ’s decision.

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