Marijuana Legalization: Implementing Initiative 502 in Washington
Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, visited the WSU campus on October 22nd to discuss the implementation of I-502 in Washington. Director Garza spoke of the difficulty in implementing I-502 in Washington because in essence the state was starting from scratch and had no true concept of how the whole process would function. Garza discussed how Washington faced more issues than Colorado because at the time of legalization for both states Colorado had a regulated medical marijuana business while Washington had no prior experience with regulated medical or recreational marijuana.
The implementation of I-502 led to recreational marijuana being placed under the control and regulation of the Liquor Control Board, because alcohol, like marijuana, is viewed as a drug. Director Garza detailed how the state had no fiscal projection for what recreational marijuana would create and furthermore they were forced to determine how exactly I-502 would operate within Washington.
The Liquor Control Board examined the amount of retail stores they would allow, who could operate these businesses, and how regulation would be enacted. Garza discussed how they created regulations that restricted the amount of licenses an individual could gave to only one so that no monopolies would surface. Additionally, they proceeded to train marijuana enforcement officers who would be better suited to spotting effects of THC in drivers and the public. Furthermore, the control board focuses on three key areas. How to prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors, how to keep this substance within state borders, and how licenses would be issued to growers and sellers. Director Garza specifically elaborated on how license holders were subject to criminal background checks, their spouses and investors were subject to this check as well, and financial background checks were given to ensure these license holders were obtaining finances through legal means.
Lastly, Garza detailed some of the estimated numbers from I-502 and their effects on the state. He outlined that since I-502 the amount of medical dispensaries has tripled, and that currently 210 retail stores have been opened with 750 different producers around the state, all of which can be located through the Liquor Control Board’s website. While Garza did not have exact numbers he did elaborate and explain how currently Washington State spirit sales are around roughly one billion dollars and that in the next couple years they estimate marijuana sales to be between 800 million and one billion dollars as well.