In the black market pot industry now? The state may want your business

SEATTLE -- By Monday’s deadline, key supporters of Initiative 502 weighed in what the exact rules should be for the legal marijuana industry.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says the state needs to relax restrictions to make it fair for everyone to smoke pot. He even wants the state to recruit marijuana growers, distributors and sellers in the black market right now.

By March 2014, the first batch of state regulated pot stores will be open.

“If we allow these people to buy marijuana but don’t give them a place to smoke, then how can we fault them if they break the non-public display and consumption rule,” said Holmes.

Holmes sent a letter to the state Liquor Control Board recommending specific changes to the board’s draft rules. One of the suggestions is “private-use clubs.”

“It’s not just tourism we are worried about; we are worried about our own residents who don’t have the privilege to smoke in the privacy of their own home if they are in public housing or apartments with a smoking ban,” said Holmes.

Speaking of bans, there is a 1,000-foot rule in place restricting retailers from setting up next to where kids gather like schools and parks. But that rule also includes public transit centers. Holmes says the state needs to specifically define what is considered a public transit center and if the definition is too broad -- the concern is that retailers will not be able to set up shop at downtown locations.

“We have to make sure this is simply not a rich man’s bill that it is addressing the reality of tourism and social justice consideration,” said Holmes.

When it comes to overcoming the black market, the answer is surprising. Holmes says the state should recruit and work together with people who are now operating underground.

“We want to evaluate them in a case-by-case basis to see if they are the very kind of people we want to bring into the light of full regulation,” said Holmes.

Misdemeanor marijuana convictions will not affect anyone’s chances of doing business with the state. Even felony convictions will be determined on a case-by-case basis. As Washington ventures into uncharted territory, many, even those who support I-502, have a warning going forward.

“Mostly concerned about glamorizing marijuana, to convey the message that it’s not harmless and nobody needs to consider what the risks are and what kind of boundaries we need to use,” said retired UW professor Roger Roffman.

Roffman, working together with the ACLU, also sent suggestions to the board on Monday emphasizing public health and consumer education.