State regulators hope to have some new marijuana stores licensed by the start of next year as they prepare to merge the medical and recreational markets.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board plans to accept applications for pot stores starting Oct. 12 for the first time since 2013.
The announcement Wednesday “marks the beginning of phase two,” cannabis board chairwoman Jane Rushford said in a statement.
In preparing for the expansion, the board said Wednesday it would immediately raise ceilings on how many plants already-licensed producers can grow. The largest farms, for example, will be able to grow up to 30,000 square feet of plant canopy, up from 21,000 square feet.
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The new stores will be licensed to sell the drug for both recreational and medical use, and existing stores can apply for an endorsement to sell medical marijuana. A law passed this year is driving the changes and aims to replace existing, unregulated medical pot operations that must shut down by July.
The switch to a new medical system won’t necessarily happen by the time the liquor board starts granting licenses. While stores will be able to open, they can’t sell products as medical marijuana until a different state agency — the Department of Health — decides what qualifies as medical marijuana.
Unlike the first round of applications, this one starts off with no end date, no maximum number of potential shops and no lottery for deciding who gets a license. Instead the board will use criteria set out by the Legislature in the new law.
That means priority for retail licenses goes to applicants who ran or worked at a medical-marijuana operation in 2012 or earlier and who have stayed current on taxes and business licenses. An even higher priority goes to applicants who meet those qualifications and also applied for a retail license during the first round.
The board set temporary rules Wednesday while also starting the process of adopting permanent rules. A series of public hearings will collect input, including one set for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Best Western Plus Tacoma Dome Hotel.
The cannabis board has licensed 200 stores and more than 700 producers and processors.
TRIBE EYES MEDICAL POT
State-licensed stores might not be the only places to buy legally sanctioned medical marijuana at retail. Patients might one day also be able to buy it on the Squaxin Island Indian Reservation in Mason County.
“We’re really interested in doing ... not just recreational but medical,” Squaxin Island Tribal Council member Jim Peters said Wednesday.
The recreational part was all but assured minutes earlier when the cannabis board signed an agreement negotiated with the tribe and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. Inslee’s signature was expected to follow.
The state-tribal compact follows a similar deal signed last week with the Suquamish Tribe in Kitsap County. Both are expected to open stores soon.
Peters said the Squaxin Island Tribe’s shop under construction across from the tribe’s Little Creek Casino and Resort between Olympia and Shelton could go first by opening as soon as mid-October.
“My understanding is we might be first in the nation,” Peters said.