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Public Health Groups Weigh In On Legal Pot

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(Photo credit JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

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SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state should be conservative in how much legal marijuana it allows to be sold and strict in how it regulates pot advertising, a group of local public health and substance abuse prevention organizations says.

The Children’s Alliance, the Science and Management of Addictions Foundation, and the University of Washington’s Innovative Programs Research Group are among those sending a letter Tuesday to the Liquor Control Board, which is developing rules for the pot industry. They drafted the letter in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which was a major backer of Initiative 502.

And they’re not the only ones offering advice. A key state lawmaker, Enumclaw Democratic Rep. Chris Hurst, whose committee oversees cannabis, said he planned to introduce a bill Tuesday to amend I-502.

He didn’t immediately offer details, but Hurst has previously suggested that the license fees for marijuana growing, processing and selling are too low as set out in the measure. He has also suggested that I-502’s zoning requirements keeping pot businesses 1,000 feet from schools, day cares and parks is too strict, and that state tax revenue will suffer if people can’t conveniently patronize licensed pot shops.

Amending a voter-approved initiative in the first two years after passage requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

The public health groups say placing conservative limits on marijuana production will help make sure pot isn’t diverted to minors or out of state, and strict advertising limits will minimize exposure to those under 21. They also urge the board to avoid creating barriers — such as high license fees — that would keep small-time growers out of the market.

“The board should avoid creating either economic barriers that prevent smaller commercial operations from entering the marketplace or incentives for big businesses to enter and dominate,” the letter reads. “Our experience with tobacco and alcohol cautions us that opening the door to large enterprises would run the risk of aggressive marketing and promotion of marijuana use generally, which increases the likelihood of increased marijuana use by all people, especially youth.”

The letter acknowledges that the board must provide for enough marijuana to be produced to undercut the black market, but describes the production sweet spot as an amount that will meet existing demand for pot without encouraging additional demand.

The groups also urge the board to require that labels on pot products inform people about how to get drug counseling if they need it, including the number for the “marijuana use public health hotline” created by the initiative, and warn about the dangers of driving while stoned.

“Much of the public discussion of Initiative 502 has focused on business opportunities and potential tax revenue,” said Alison Holcomb, the ACLU of Washington’s drug policy director and author of I-502. “We want to highlight the features that are intended to promote positive public health and safety outcomes for our communities.”

I-502, passed by voters last fall, legalized the possession and private use of cannabis by adults 21 and over, and called for the state to set up a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores. Voters in Colorado passed a similar measure.

New marijuana tax revenues are directed to the state general fund and local budgets, as well as substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the U.S. Department of Justice has not said whether it will sue in an effort to block the licensing schemes.

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Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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