State to Award First Pot License Tomorrow Amid Tension, Prediction of Disaster

The state Liquor Control Board announced this morning that it will issue its very first marijuana license tomorrow, at which time the chosen one will be introduced to the press. No word yet on who of the thousands of applicants that is. We talked to a couple likely suspects–Seattle warehouse grower Alex Cooley and Okanagan County would-be outdoor pot farmer Jeremy Moberg—and both assure us it’s not them.

What is apparent is that the upbeat news is accompanied by tension, politicking and even a prediction by the man once identified as Washington’s “pot czar” that the whole system could be a disaster.

Of course, criticism is endemic to the fractious marijuana community. See the rollicking debate over the initiative that set the state cannabis system in motion. Still, it’s interesting that Cooley, an extremely ambitious entrepreneur profiled in a November Seattle Weekly cover story, says he doesn’t want to be the state’s first licensee. He’s rankled by the LCB’s decision last month to dramatically reduce the scale of licensed growers. Instead of allowing them up to three licenses, granting permission to grow on a maximum 90,000 square feet of land in total, the board is now allocating just one license apiece corresponding to a maximum 21,000 square feet.

Given that change, and a ruling last month by the state attorney general that cities and counties can ban marijuana operations, Cooley says his company “wanted to wait until we understood what the playing field will be.”

Meanwhile, Moberg is steaming over the LCB’s failure to prioritize outdoor growers in giving out licenses. In doing so, Moberg says the board is refusing to recognize that cannabis is an agricultural crop that, when grown outdoors, needs to be planted according to the seasons. Specifically, he says the crop needs to get in the ground by March 15.

Maybe the licensee announced tomorrow will be an outdoor grower. But that would be just one, says Moberg, part of a new group called the Sun-Growers Industry Association. He says he was told last week by the LCB that others may not get their licenses for as long as a year. Board spokesperson Brian Smith confirms that the process of awarding licenses, as investigators verify applicants’ qualifications, could take that long.

Moberg puts part of the blame on the lobbying efforts of indoor growers, whom he casts as a more monied lot building expensive, energy-hogging warehouses. As he tells it, these often urban indoor growers are trying to undermine their outdoor brethren, who can grow marijuana more cheaply. And so, Moberg contends, the warehouse lobby has persuaded the LCB not to give outdoor growers first dibs. The same lobby, Moberg charges, argued for the new limits on scale, which affect outdoor growers the most because they tend to have the most land.

It’s unclear how valid Moberg’s take is. Witness warehouse owner Cooley’s distress at the new limits. He had applied for three licenses and was planning on maxing out the allowable square footage. Regardless, the tension between indoor and outdoor growers reveals yet another rift in the marijuana community.

If Mark Kleiman had his way, both outdoor and indoor growers—indeed all marijuana businesses—would be up in arms. That’s because Kleiman, Washington’s onetime top marijuana consultant, wants to restrict pot growing as much as possible, drive up prices through scarcity, impose a minimum retail price and have pot sold exclusively through state-run stores. Kleiman makes this argument in a just-published issue of the Washington Monthly .

Despite Kleiman’s prominent role in constructing this state’s system, for which the LCB tells SW he received roughly $818,000, the University of California at Los Angeles public policy professor opines that, without the actions he advocates, state experiments like Washington’s risk “creating a monstrosity” that fosters drug abuse and puts kids at risk.

Despite being labeled our pot “czar,” Kleiman never had any power to set the rules of the new system. Instead, his company did research on a variety of technical subjects that informed the LCB’s work. An outspoken, opinionated guy, he perhaps yearned for more input. Cooley thinks so, chalking up Kleiman’s provocative piece to a “continual desire to be heard.”

UPDATE; The Associated Press is reporting that Spokane medical marijuana dispensary owner Sean Green will get the first licensee. That’s green, like weed, get it? Perhaps the LCB has a sense of humor.

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