Opponents turned out in force Wednesday morning to express displeasure with a proposed rule change by the state Liquor Control Board that will prohibit marijuana consumption in liquor-licensed establishments statewide.
Under I-502 passed by voters last year, adults 21 and over in Washington state can now legally possess up to ounce of marijuana. But the question of where individuals can legally use marijuana has been a tricky one to decide.
The Liquor Control Board saw its responsibilities diminish last year after large retailers, mainly Costco, successfully lobbied for a new law allowing spirits to be sold at large grocery outlets, closing all state-run liquor stores. The LCB has now been charged with making rules for the legal sale, taxation, and consumption of marijuana statewide.
Frankie Schnarr, owner of Frankie's Sports Bar and Grill on Pacific Avenue in Olympia, located just a stone's throw from the LCB's headquarters showed up to Wednesday's hearing to complain that the proposed rule change unfairly targets his business.
Years ago, Schnarr waged, and won a court battle that ultimately allowed him to open the second floor of his bar to tobacco smokers. Schnarr's second-floor was opened only to tobacco smokers who joined his club, "Friends of Frankie's," paying $10 in annual dues. The club membership allowed "Friends of Frankie's" to smoke tobacco on the second floor under the theory that it is a private room, not open to the general public at large.
After I-502's passage, Schnarr began to invite club members to enter his bar's private room on the second floor to smoke and consume marijuana. Frankie's does not sell marijuana, but it does sell beer and liquor, including on the second-floor.
Schnarr said the club now has 13,500 members alllowed to smoke marijuana on the second floor. Business at Frankie's is booming due to I-502, Schnarr said.
Arthur West, who spoke out Wednesday against the proposed rule change, told the LCB the proposal is "invidiously designed to attack one business."
"The state has a vendetta against him and his business," West said.
The LCB's proposed rule change would prohibit marijuana usage at any liquor-licensed establishment. The three-person LCB will vote on the proposed rule change during its next meeting on Dec. 18.
LCB members said during the hearing that the rule change will address the public safety concerns raised by individuals who drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, and then drive.
LCB member Chris Marr said the proposed rule change also will bring its rules into compliance with I-502, which prohibits consumption of marijuana "in public view."
Juston Nordhorn, chief of enforcement for the LCB, said Wednesday that any establishment that sells alcohol with a valid liquor license would be considered "public," regardless of whether the owner considers it a private area.
One woman who spoke during Wednesday's hearing, Poppy Sidhu, said she is a medical marijuana patient, and she would like the LCB to consider having a rule that would groups to form some kind of club where people could legally get together and socialize while consuming marijuana.
Nordhorn said he has heard similar complaints, but that is something that would have to be addressed by the Legislature.
Nordhorn said he has heard from his compliance officers in King County that Frankie's is not the only bar in the state that is allowing patrons to smoke marijuana on the premises.
If the rule change is adopted, Nordhorn said he expects that compliance officers will simply rely on liquor-license holders to comply. If there are complaints, officers will investigate, he added.
"Our intent isn't to shut people down, it's to get them into compliance with the law," Nordhorn said.
The law stating marijuana cannot be consumed in public is further complicated by marijuana edibles, such as cookies and brownies, which simply look like confections and do not appear to contain marijuana, Nordhorn said.
"It's a very challenging law," he said.
After Wednesday's hearing, Schnarr said he full expects the LCB to adopt the rule that would bar marijuana consumption on premises that hold liquor licenses. He called Wednesday's hearing a "dog and pony ride."
Schnarr added that he will fight the LCB in court and ignore the rule change, if it is passed.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 email@example.com