‘Pot Mama’ Exerts Influence in Fighting Corporate Takeover

She sits in the back of public hearings, tapping on her laptop. She meets with public officials, and fires off detailed letters about her opinions. Yesterday, it became clear they are taken seriously.

Alison Holcomb—dubbed “pot mama” by a SW cover story last year-- may no longer be masterminding the legalization of marijuana, but her influence can still be felt as the initiative she authored, 502, undergoes implementation.

Liquor Control Board director Rick Garza referenced meetings with Holcomb, criminal justice director of the ACLU of Washington, as he helped explain the new rules proposed by the agency yesterday. An overarching concern of Holcomb, echoed by other players in the fledgling marijuana industry, is that “we don’t allow corporations to take over,” Garza said at a press briefing in Olympia. That, he said, was a motivation in stipulating that no entity could hold more than three licenses.

Since the regulation places caps on the overall number of licenses (for retail stores, the state limit would be 334), a corporation could gobble up a big share of the pool if there were no three-license rule.

The LCB also proposed that licenses be given to growers according to a three-tier system based on how large the entities are, as measured by the square footage of their facilities. Holcomb suggested a tier system in a letter to the LCB back in June.

Talking with SW today, Holcomb confirms that she believes a tier system would stave off corporate dominance, which she says is important for two reasons. First, she wants to encourage as many “illicit” operators as possible to transition into the legal market. Such operators, she says, tend to be mom and pop entities that would otherwise be at a disadvantage when competing for a license with big businesses that have better financing and more impressive paperwork.

Controversially, she includes medical marijuana dispensaries in the category of illicit businesses. As she sees it, the state law that allows medical marijuana “collective gardens” does not legalize “commercial” entities, and dispensaries are thus operating outside the law. While dispensaries (or “access points” as they are technically known) argue otherwise, it’s true, as Holcomb points out, that both Governor Jay Inslee and U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan have signaled their unease with medical marijuana’s gray market.

Holcomb says she’s also promoting a tier system because she hopes it will give entrepreneurs in poor and minority communities a shot. She notes that those are the communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

She’s picking up on an irony remarked upon at a recent LCB public hearing by Larry Evans, a legislative aide to King County Council member Larry Gossett. For years African Americans and Latinos bore the brunt of harsh drug enforcement laws, but now that marijuana is legal, Evans said, minorities are at risk of being shut out of the industry.

A new set of public hearings on the proposed rules is scheduled to begin on October 9. Count on Holcomb to participate.

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