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Proposed ban on hash, pot extract irks critics

Ted S. Warren
Associated Press

Washington’s proposed marijuana rules weren't even 24-hours old when critics began finding things not to like. The 46-pages of draft regulations released Thursday cover everything from where marijuana can be grown to the criminal backgrounds of license applicants. But it’s the section on marijuana concentrates that’s getting some negative buzz.

Let’s start with the criminal background part of this. Under the proposed rules, anyone who wants a piece of the legal marijuana business would have to submit to a background check - even the financial backers of a marijuana start-up. A felony conviction in the last 10 years would likely disqualify someone. But a couple of misdemeanor pot convictions would not count against an applicant. Brian Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, says that rule was written with black market operators in mind.

"They want to get into the recreational marijuana market. They want to be legit. The board wants them to get out the black market and to come into the recreational market and be legitimate and so that’s the thinking that the board had," Smith said. 

License applicants would be scored based on their criminal background. Where marijuana can be grown has been a topic of much discussion. The board proposes to limit grows to secure indoor buildings or greenhouses; no emerald waves of marijuana plants out in the open. But it’s another limitation in the proposed rules having to do with a very specific marijuana product that getting a lot of attention. It’s a ban on hash and other forms of concentrated THC extracted from marijuana plants – unless it’s infused into a product. 

“I believe that the products that we’re producing have received a bad rap because of the nickname BHO, Butane-extracted hash oil," said Jim Andersen with a company called XTracted. 

Andersen says Butane is often used to extract the THC, but if done right, it leaves no chemical trace. He plans to fight the ban on raw marijuana extracts.

Smith said the Liquor Control Board was inclined to allow concentrates, but got some legal advice to the contrary.

"The law says the usable marijuana is the buds or the flowers of a marijuana plant, and an extract doesn’t meet that criteria of being the bud," he said. 

This interpretation concerns Alison Holcomb with the ACLU of Washington who led the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Washington.

“There are broader implications than the fact stores couldn’t sell those products," Holcomb said. 

Holcomb says if the courts agreed that marijuana extracts don’t qualify under the law, then anyone in possession of these products could face arrest and prosecution.

"Because I-502 amended our possession law to decriminalize possession of usable marijuana and marijuana-infused products, not marijuana in general," she said. 

Holcomb now wants the Liquor Control Board to define exactly what a marijuana extract is. She says the Legislature may ultimately need to get involved. The proposed marijuana rules are the first, significant window in the Board’s thinking as it implements pot legalization in Washington. The plan is to have final rules in place by this summer and begin the application process for business licenses in September. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.