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Relax distance rules for marijuana stores?

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Feb. 22, 2013 at 8:14 am with No Comments »
February 22, 2013 8:44 am
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw

As I wrote Monday, three months after voters approved legal marijuana sales, it remains very unclear how easy it will be for customers to buy the stuff. Some local governments may use their zoning powers to resist, and even if they don’t, Initiative 502 contains a rule that requires pot stores to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, day care centers, bus stations and community centers — which may concentrate them in industrial zones or rural areas.

The leader of the House committee overseeing marijuana, Rep. Chris Hurst, now says the way the 1,000-foot rule is written in the law is “unbelievably restricted” and risks leaving the black market in charge.

“You can’t have a legitimate market unless you can put the illegitimate market out of business,” Hurst said. “If you have major gaps in availability, who is going to fill that? Well, it’s going to be immediately filled by criminal enterprises.”

“If you’ve got to drive 75 miles to find it, that isn’t going to work.”

Hurst’s remarks are significant partly because he is likely the most conservative Democrat in the House, not to mention a former police officer. And if lawmakers are going to make changes to I-502, they will need to be broadly bipartisan to garner two-thirds of votes required to change an initiative. Hurst said he would only pursue changes that have near-unanimous support.

He said a couple of other areas are also being considered for changes, but declined to go into detail, saying he may unveil a proposal next week.

In the past he has questioned whether fees and penalties in the measure are too low, and whether the Liquor Control Board is moving too fast to write the rules for growers and sellers. But he says the liquor board has answered some of his questions and that he is listening to the board, to minority Republicans, and to I-502 lead backer Alison Holcomb of the ACLU as he crafts changes.

I-502 measures are seen as having repercussions for the state budget, so they are unlikely to be affected by today’s deadline for committees to pass bills.

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