By Marcy Stamper

The Washington State Liquor Control Board is limiting the size of marijuana crops during the first year of production to keep the amount of recreational marijuana it oversees “manageable.”

Because the board received almost 3,000 license applications from prospective growers, the agency concluded that the plant canopy would have exceeded 2 million square feet and is therefore limiting all growers to 70 percent of the crop initially proposed.

Rules adopted by the state last year allow the agency to limit production “to ensure a tightly regulated and controlled market to prevent diversion of product to other states [and] sales to minors,” according to a statement by the Liquor Control Board.

The board’s limits are based on estimates of expected recreational marijuana consumption as provided by a consultant. The aim is to set production limits “to meet initial consumer demand without over-supplying,” said the board. During the first year of sales, the state aims to capture 13 to 25 percent of the overall recreational market; it plans to expand in future years.

In addition, the board is restricting growers to a single license, rather than up to three. The board will contact all producer (grower) applicants seeking more than one license to see if they want to withdraw the extra applications and receive a refund or have the applications held until the board determines more producer licenses are needed. About one-third of the prospective growers applied for more than one license.

In Okanogan County there are 81 applications for growers, out of 2,800 statewide. Four of those are in Twisp, with one applicant seeking three producer licenses; four are in Winthrop, with one applicant seeking two licenses; three are in Carlton; and one is in Methow.

There are 42 applications for processors in the county, out of just over 2,000 statewide. One is in Twisp; two in Winthrop, three in Carlton, and one in Methow. Several of those are also seeking a license to grow marijuana.

There are 12 applicants for retail marijuana outlets in the county, with only two in the Methow Valley, both in Winthrop. There are more than 2,200 seeking retail licenses across the state, although the Liquor Board is offering only 334 retail licenses in total, based on population. Okanogan County has been allocated five stores, with one slated for Omak.

The largest number of applicants for all types of recreational marijuana businesses in the county are in Tonasket.

Applicants are still permitted to receive a license to both grow and process marijuana. Retail licenses had already been restricted to one per applicant.

Although the Washington attorney general issued an opinion last month that local jurisdictions may have the right to restrict or ban marijuana businesses, the Liquor Board confirmed that they intend to issue licenses to all qualified applicants, regardless of local regulations.

The attorney general’s opinion is not binding. The Association of Washington Cities is among the groups predicting that these bans are likely to be challenged in court.

Omak passed an ordinance last spring that effectively bans the possession or sale of marijuana in the city limits. Earlier this month, the East Wenatchee city council lifted a moratorium on marijuana businesses, allowing them in some commercial districts.

The Liquor Board’s change reduces the crop size for its three tiers of licenses by 30 percent. Tier 1 is for producer operations up to 2,000 square feet; tier 2 is from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet, and tier 3 is from 10,000 to 30,000 square feet. Several of the local applications are for the largest operations.

With these recent changes, the board expects to begin issuing licenses in March, according to Mikhail Carpenter, spokesperson for the Liquor Control Board.