Upwards of 400 marijuana growers, producers, sellers and users crowded into Seattle City Hall on Thursday evening, many with questions and suggestions about how much pot should be grown and sold in the state, and even how to price it.
The meeting, hosted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB), was the second of six public forums scheduled to take place across the state on the implementation of I-502, Washington's ground-breaking marijuana law. The overflow crowd that packed into Seattle City Hall included all walks of life: old and young, long-haired and crew-cut.
The mood was both celebratory and cautious. WSLCB Chair Sharon Foster began by saying that speakers who kept their comments short would be given a "brownie point"—a statement that prompted many in the crowd to ask, "What kind of brownie point?" and drew laughter from both the audience and three-member liquor control board.
Joking aside, several speakers said they are concerned that the new law will push out small growers and producers, many of whom have been in the business for decades. Some called for the board to consider increasing the number of grower and producer licenses it issues, while others asked for a higher production limit.
"It's been a war for the last 40 years. The war is over. We won," said John Eskola, a speaker who said he represented five or six medium-sized growers. "Don't punish us. Take our money."
Some also voiced support for increasing the number of plants allowed per grower. But other speakers said they think keeping the volume low will prevent big-time growers from taking business away from the little guys.
Price and production level is another matter of concern for many growers and users. The state has estimated a production level of 187,000 pounds of pot a year, priced at $12 per gram. But some speakers told board members they did not think that was enough weed or low enough of a price to compete with the black market.
Michael Johnson, a grower who belongs to the Laughing Buddha Collective, said he would like to be able to sell directly to users—without a processor or retailer getting in the way.
"Marijuana isn't liquor, and it doesn't need a three-tiered system," he said.
But Foster said most of what's in the voter-approved initiative isn't up for debate. The law will stay as written, unless state legislators amend it with a two-thirds majority.
"We don't have a lot of wiggle room in a lot of areas," she said.