Low approvals hinder Washington pot debut

7% of licenses OK’d as Evergreen State becomes 2nd to permit legal marijuana sales

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SEATTLE — As Wash­ing­ton be­comes the sec­ond state to per­mit the le­gal sale of mar­i­juana, avail­abil­ity will be lim­ited af­ter of­fi­cials ap­proved just 24 of 334 al­lot­ted re­tail li­censes.

Pot re­tail­ers el­i­gi­ble to open stores to­day in­clude Main Street Mar­i­juana in Van­cou­ver and Cann­abis City in Se­at­tle, the only one in the state’s larg­est city, ac­cord­ing to a list re­leased by the Wash­ing­ton State Li­quor Con­trol Board.

“What we found is that many of our ap­pli­cants just weren’t ready to be li­censed yet,” said Brian Smith, a spokes­man for the agency charged with reg­u­lat­ing the in­dus­try. Many are still ne­go­ti­at­ing with land­lords, he said.

Wash­ing­ton — home to Am­a­zon.com Inc., Mi­cro­soft Corp. and Star­bucks Corp. — joins Col­o­rado in per­mit­ting the sale of mar­i­juana for rec­re­ational use. Vot­ers in both states ap­proved 2012 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, and Col­o­rado re­tail­ers be­gan sell­ing it in Jan­u­ary.

Alaska vot­ers will con­sider a mea­sure for rec­re­ational sales in No­vem­ber, and an ef­fort is un­der­way to place a sim­i­lar ini­tia­tive on the bal­lot in Ore­gon. Two years from now, le­gal-pot ad­vo­cates plan cam­paigns in Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sa­chu­setts, Maine and Montana. Selling mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law.

Mean­while in New York state, Gov. An­drew Cuomo on Mon­day signed leg­is­la­tion mak­ing New York the 23rd state to al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana, call­ing his ap­proach, which for­bids smok­ing of the drug and in­cludes strict lim­its, the “smart­est” of any state yet. Under the guide­lines, ac­cess to the drug will be lim­ited to pa­tients with very se­ri­ous and ter­mi­nal ill­nesses; the drug can only be ad­min­is­tered through va­por­iz­ing, oils and ed­i­bles; and the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor re­serves the right to dis­band the pro­gram at any time.

“This new law takes an im­por­tant step to­ward bring­ing re­lief to pa­tients liv­ing with ex­tra­or­di­nary pain and ill­ness,” Mr. Cuomo told a news con­fer­ence at the New York Acad­emy of Med­i­cine, flanked by law­mak­ers and 9-year-old Amanda Houser, who suf­fers from sei­zures.

The leg­is­la­tion “gets us the best that med­i­cal mar­i­juana has to of­fer in the most pro­tected, con­trolled way pos­si­ble,” the gov­er­nor said. “I re­ally be­lieve that this is the smart­est ap­proach that any state has taken thus far.”

Other states have ap­proved far more per­mis­sive laws. Beyond Wash­ing­ton state‘‍s and Col­o­rado’‍s de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of rec­re­ational use, pa­tients in other states can grow their own pot, ob­tain it from a dis­pen­sary or both. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana is also le­gal in the Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia.

The New York law‘‍s sign­ing fol­lowed years of ad­vo­cacy by pro­po­nents of med­i­cal mar­i­juana. While ap­plaud­ing pas­sage of the new law, ad­vo­cates said it was not as com­pre­hen­sive as pa­tients had hoped, and that the time­line was too slow.

“I'm heart­ened that the gov­er­nor un­der­stands the me­dic­i­nal ben­e­fits of med­i­cal cann­abis. My son and so many oth­ers need this med­i­cine right away,” said Missy Miller, whose son Oliver suf­fered a brain-stem in­jury in utero and now as a teen­ager has hun­dreds of sei­zures a day. “The 18-month time­line for im­ple­men­ta­tion sug­gested in the bill is sim­ply too long for Oliver,” Ms. Miller said in a state­ment is­sued by the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance.

State As­sem­bly Speaker Shel­don Sil­ver said the state's goal would be to get the pro­gram up and run­ning “swiftly, safely and ef­fi­ciently.” The as­sem­bly has been ap­prov­ing ver­sions of the bills for the bet­ter part of two de­cades. The cur­rent bill passed both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture on June 20.

Con­di­tions it cov­ers in­clude can­cer, HIV/​AIDS, ALS, Par­kin­son's, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, cer­tain spi­nal cord in­ju­ries, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, ep­i­lepsy, neu­r­op­a­thy and Hun­ting­ton's dis­ease

Pot bought in Wash­ing­ton state must be con­sumed there.

Cann­abis City owner James Lath­rop said he in­vested $50,000 in his store, lo­cated in an in­dus­trial sec­tion south of down­town Se­at­tle, along a six-lane road and with no off-street park­ing. He said he was turned down by 10 land­lords who didn’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with mar­i­juana. His store’s name is in small print above the mail­box. Under Wash­ing­ton’‍s rules, cann­abis can’t be dis­played in win­dows, and stores can’t be near schools, play­grounds, li­brar­ies or parks.

“This spot was re­ally a ter­ri­ble spot, but it’s cheap rent,” said Mr. Lath­rop, who pre­vi­ously ran a bar. “Most of my costs have been in mak­ing it beau­ti­ful.” In­side, re­cy­cled glass jew­elry cases dis­play pipes and bongs, or de­vices that fil­ter mar­i­juana smoke through wa­ter.

Wash­ing­ton also is­sued 90 li­censes to pro­duc­ers and pro­ces­sors, Mr. Smith said, cit­ing data as of last week. There’s no limit on how many such per­mits can be is­sued.

Under the bal­lot mea­sure ap­proved by Wash­ing­ton vot­ers, pro­duc­ers, pro­ces­sors and re­tail­ers each must pay the state a 25 per­cent ex­cise tax. The ac­tual levy on pot sales will be lower than the com­bined 75 per­cent be­cause many pro­duc­ers and pro­ces­sors will op­er­ate as one en­tity.

Wash­ing­ton’‍s rev­e­nue from rec­re­ational sales is pro­jected to fall 69 per­cent short of ini­tial es­ti­mates. Two years ago, state of­fi­cials pro­jected tax rev­e­nue to­tal­ing as much as $1.9 bil­lion from July 2013 through June 2017. Of­fi­cials last month es­ti­mated rev­e­nue at $586 mil­lion over the four years start­ing in July 2015.

Wash­ing­ton state grow­ers are still strug­gling to pro­duce enough prod­uct to meet de­mand. With as many as 2,000 cus­tom­ers ex­pected to­day, Cann­abis City will prob­a­bly sell out of its 10 pounds of pot in a sin­gle day, store man­ager Amber McGowan said. It may take an­other week to re­plen­ish stocks, in­clud­ing such strains as Cop­per Kush, O.G.’s Pearl and Sweet La­fay­ette, she said. Pot will be priced at $20 per gram, she said.

Reu­ters con­trib­uted.


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