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Squeezed Out 

Publisher's Note

Who could have predicted that privatizing liquor sales in Washington would produce winners, losers, legal challenges and higher prices? Oh yeah, we did! It’s fairly predictable with any special interest-written legislation; the part we didn’t call, however, is that Costco, the author of the law, would file a lawsuit, too. That’s new.

Another surprise is that the state Liquor Control Board has stayed busy, as it has been charged — thanks to another initiative — with administrating the sale of recreational marijuana. Their members are barnstorming to gather input before they write the rules for the newly controlled consumer product.

A lot of the testimony has come from medical marijuana providers (empowered by yet another state initiative) who fear their service/business/vocation is going to be lost in the shuffle. They’re right to be afraid.

After the U.S. Attorney shut down the medical marijuana sales infrastructure in Eastern Washington, it’s been very hard for patients here to exercise their state-granted rights and find relief from the natural remedy. Now the Liquor Control Board is pressing on with recreational sales rules and ignoring medical sales, as that is not in their mandate. That leaves it to the Legislature to create clear outlines for the medical side, but that’s not looking too likely. First, the U.S. Attorney in Seattle did not crack down, so there’s no outcry from over there. And second, Eastern Washington is mostly filled with legislators who are not sympathetic to the issue.

This is what becoming a political orphan looks like, and it’s not at all fair to Eastern Washington. Perhaps the dispensers’ best hope is that in the process of developing parameters, the federal Justice Department will relent in the hard-line approach that put nearly all local dispensaries out of business. Many had thought the feds would quickly signal their opposition to Washington and Colorado’s choices and tie the legalizing marijuana issue up in court for a few years. But they did not. Apparently President Obama is OK with letting us experiment.

This is another case of too many initiatives that contradict each other. Still, legalizing marijuana, controlling its use and taxing it will, in the end, take the criminal element out of the picture and produce much-needed state revenue.

As for the medical marijuana dispensers in Eastern Washington, many waiting to get back in business, well… they may not be able to beat them, so they might start thinking about joining them. Starting in mid-September, the LCB will begin taking applications for licenses to sell marijuana to any legal-age citizen, medical or recreational.

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