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Retail Cannabis in Washington

A week from tomorrow the WA State Liquor Control Board will issue the first licenses to retail stores selling marijuana. Those stores with their act together will be able open on July 8. I expect the media to respond similarly to the January openings in Colorado: lame jokes, shots of long lines outside of stores, and reports of product shortages.

Hopefully, the fluff stuff will die down fairly quickly (the stories have been done before) and attention will turn to what’s real.

I’m sure no one will take exception to the extra caution being taken by the LCB to assure licensees are responsible, law-abiding, honest business people providing safe products to the public. There is, however, a good case that the LCB has been over-cautious, too careful, and to the point, too slow to implement rules and issue licenses.

It can be said that the LCB has assumed a lot of power over the market, probably more than was envisioned when the initiative passed. The process they follow has been likened to “Soviet-style” central economy planning with complete control of the supply, demand, and pricing of the products. Part of this was their history of being a monopoly over the liquor distribution system, and part of this is fear of repercussions from the federal government.

Suppliers were licensed in March, so their product is only now getting ready to delivery to retail stores. No where near the maximum number of grower licenses have been issued, and come next Monday only a fraction of the possible retail outlets will be issued licenses. It’s predicted that consumer demand will far exceed the supply in stores next week.

The LCB has been accused of dragging it’s feet and being far to bureaucratic to allow for the efficiencies of a “free” market, held as necessary by proponents as the cure for the black market ills. We’ll see in a week whether or not the Washington State system works, or is too bogged down in regulatory restrictions for the intent of the law to work properly.

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