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ACLU, public health groups cautioning marijuana rulemakers

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How do you build a whole new industry – and undermine a black market -- without increasing its customer base?  

That’s the challenge state regulators are facing as they write the rules that will govern recreational marijuana in Washington. The American Civil Liberties Union is urging caution.

The ACLU of Washington has been the state’s biggest cheerleader for legalized marijuana. They wrote Initiative 502, which voters passed into law.

Now they’ve joined with substance abuse treatment groups and public health advocates in submitting a letter to the state liquor control board.  

The ACLU’s Alison Holcomb says they’re asking the board to keep growers small initially.

“And that our marijuana market winds up looking more like a market that is designed to meet existing adult demand for this product, without crossing the line into promoting excessive use of marijuana – and especially, avoiding promotion of marijuana use by young people.”

She says they want the board to incorporate lessons learned from the regulation of alcohol and tobacco and be careful about the kinds of labeling and advertisements allowed. They also want adequate funding to monitor impacts on public health.

The comments come at the same time as a key lawmaker has introduced amendments to the pot law, among them, dramatically increasing the licensing fees on marijuana businesses. State Representative Christopher Hurst, who leads the house committee that oversees cannabis, says the state would be leaving “money on the table” if it sticks with current fees of just $250 for starting up.

Holcomb says she’s worried increasing the fees would invite big business interests to the market, rather than encouraging illicit businesses to come into compliance.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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