World's Eyes On Washington's New Recreational Pot Rules

Washington State has finalized rules for recreational marijuana sales, joining Colorado in beginning to create a legal framework for the pot industry. Randy Simmons, deputy director of the Washington Liquor Control Board, says other states and even other countries are watching Washington's developing system very closely.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Marijuana may be legal now in Washington state, but there are rules. Officials there released the new rules for selling pot last week. Last year, both Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use. And as other states consider legalization, Washington's new regulations, if successful, could become a template. It's a lot of pressure.

Randy Simmons is the deputy director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. And he oversaw the drafting of the new rules.

RANDY SIMMONS: Those people that can qualify for a license - there'll be three different types of licenses: growers, processors and retailers. Retailers are a little different. We limited the number of stores to 334 stores. So we'll have to look at who qualifies to have a store and then end up in a lottery process.

RATH: And what will it take to qualify?

SIMMONS: Oh, there's a long list of qualifications. But primarily, you have to go through a background check. You know, we do fingerprinting both at the state level and through the FBI. And then they have to do a financial check to see where the money's actually coming from. You have to have a location. We do licensing in the state of Washington by location. And you have to have a business plan that makes sense and that follows the rules as laid out.

RATH: Is that more rigorous than would be required for a liquor license?

SIMMONS: It follows the liquor license really closely. The big difference there is on the financial side, we are doing a little more in-depth look at financials for marijuana than we do for liquor. And then on the background check, we only do instate for liquor, and we're going to do nationally for marijuana.

RATH: What's interesting is you said you're using FBI checks, but, of course, marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. Do your rules take that into account?

SIMMONS: They do. Well, I guess I should say we're hoping to use the FBI. We're still waiting for them to come back through with an approval for us to do that. We put the application in for them to actually run the fingerprinting through their system.

You know, I think one of the things that's going to help that happen is Department of Justice came out with an eight-point letter a couple of weeks ago about what they want to see for this to move forward, and making sure we have noncriminal elements doing this business is important to them. And the way to assure that is to use that FBI system.

RATH: I've seen you talk about trying to strike a certain balance with these rules, that you want to drive out the black-market sale of marijuana by making it - the legal version accessible, but not so easily accessible that it would be abused. I'm just wondering, that seems like a tricky balance how you go about doing that.

SIMMONS: Yeah. It has been a tricky balance since last November trying to figure out how do we make all the stakeholders happy. You know, we have the cannabis industry itself that we have to try and get them to move over from the black market. We have the prevention community that is concerned about the product getting into the hands of kids or over service or driving under the influence.

And then law enforcement, that one of the laws and rules tight enough so that they can still make sure if they're going out there, something that's illegal, they don't - it doesn't get confusing with what's been licensed.

So we had to appease all three of those groups. And at the same time, you know, our public mission as Liquor Control Board is public safety. And for us, it's how do we make sure the product is as safe as possible, have enough out there to meet the demand of the marketplace and not so much that it's being diverted across the borders into other states.

RATH: As your state is one of the pioneers in this area, do you feel a certain pressure as other states may be looking at you as an example to really - to make sure you get it right?

SIMMONS: I think there's a lot of pressure to see what we do and how it works. And I don't think it's just from other states. We have had a lot of inquiries from other countries. There was conversation that we're supposed to have them with Spain and Brazil. Next week, we're talking with Uruguay and Mexico and Canada. A couple of weeks ago, we talked with Great Britain. The person that wrote the initiative here in the state of Washington, she's going to Poland next month.

So there's just a lot of interest worldwide on what we are doing, how we're putting a system in place we can actually watch what's happening and try and have some control over it.

RATH: Randy Simmons is the deputy director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and he oversaw the drafting of the new rules for legal pot sales there. Randy, thank you so much for clearing all that up for us.

SIMMONS: You bet. My pleasure.

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