File photo by Sue Misao

File photo by Sue Misao

By Marcy Stamper

People may be able to shop for marijuana at up to five stores in Okanogan County, now that the state’s Liquor Control Board has divvied up the potential retail outlets based on population.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board issued guidelines for a maximum of 334 stores across the state on Wednesday, Sept. 4. Some counties, including neighboring Ferry County, are so sparsely populated that they have only been granted permission to have a single store.

The Liquor Board’s proposed rules also impose buffer zones for marijuana businesses. They cannot be within 1,000 feet of a school, park, recreation center or library. Winthrop town planner Rocklynn Culp drew a preliminary map based on these restrictions, showing two or three parcels downtown and another at the south end of town where a marijuana store could possibly be located. The town has said it will treat applications for retail marijuana licenses based on the zone code, as they would any other business, said Culp.

The Twisp planning commission has not discussed the prospect for marijuana retailers in town, but would also have to follow existing zoning and regulations, according to commission chair Vicki Hallowell.

The Liquor Board’s population-based guidelines specifically authorized a store in Omak, but the city changed its zoning ordinance this spring to prohibit any land use that would violate federal, state or local laws, effectively banning any possession or sales of marijuana in the city limits, according to City Administrator Ralph Malone.

 

Rules being developed

The Liquor Board is still working on rules governing the sale and production of marijuana.

A single transaction is limited to one ounce of usable marijuana, which is also the maximum an individual is allowed to possess. Other limits apply to solid and liquid products infused with marijuana.

Possession of marijuana and admission to retail outlets is restricted to those over 21. Products containing marijuana will be required to be in childproof packaging and will carry warning labels regarding its intoxicating properties and health risks.

The draft rules would permit retailers to provide a sample jar with a plastic or metal mesh screen to allow customers to smell marijuana before they buy it, but packages cannot be opened within the stores. Retailers would not be permitted to provide samples to the public.

 

Growing marijuana

The draft rules permit marijuana to be grown in an enclosed indoor facility or greenhouse with rigid walls, a roof and doors. It could also be grown outdoors in non-rigid greenhouses or on open ground enclosed by a physical barrier and an eight-foot wall that blocks the view. Current farms cannot convert to marijuana without obtaining the appropriate licenses and meeting these growing restrictions.

The proposed rules do not allow people to grow marijuana at a private residence or any place where access to law enforcement is limited.

Marijuana cannot be labeled as organic unless permitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has no provisions for marijuana production on a national level.

At the end of August, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines permitting states to devise their own laws and systems to control cultivation and distribution of marijuana to other states. The Justice Department has said it will continue to focus on preventing distribution to minors and on preventing violence and firearm use connected with marijuana production and distribution.

 

Applications and rules

The Liquor Board will begin accepting applications for all three license types (producer, processor and retailer) for 30 days starting Nov. 16 and expects to begin issuing licenses in December or January.

While people can obtain a license to both grow and process marijuana, those interested in the retail market are restricted to sales only. The Liquor Board does not intend to limit the number of producer or processor licenses.

If there are more applications than available retail licenses in a city or county, specific locations will be selected by lottery, according to the Liquor Board. Guidelines for the lottery are still being established.

The Liquor Board is only overseeing the production and sale of recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is governed by the Department of Health.

The board is accepting comments on the proposed rules through Oct. 9 at rules@liq.wa.gov. They are scheduled to adopt the rules on Oct. 16. The rules and other information are available at liq.wa.gov/marijuana/I-502.