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Originally published Friday, November 30, 2012 at 9:46 PM

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Liquor Control Board to invent a pot market, from seed to store

The state Liquor Control Board has an interesting job in the year ahead: to get into the weeds of how marijuana is grown, sold and used.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington voters' decision to legalize marijuana means the state Liquor Control Board (LCB) now has a year to set regulations for the first-of-its-kind marijuana market.

But first, the small state agency must go on an even stranger mission — to get into the, well, weeds of how marijuana is grown, sold and used.

At a hearing on Friday before a state Senate committee, Pat Kohler, the LCB director, said the agency would need to hire a consultant — a pot expert — to gather input from key groups of police, farmers, users and others to help her staff better "understand the product and the industry itself."

The agency has been getting a lot of advice, said Rick Garza, Kohler's deputy. "There's a lot of people who think they have a lot of experience in this area," Garza said, prompting laughs from lawmakers.

The voter-approved Initiative 502 requires the LCB to license and regulate a seed-to-store closed marijuana market, with the first licenses to be issued in late 2013. Based on a state fiscal analysis, it will be a big market: 363,000 users consuming 187,000 pounds of marijuana each year, with steep sin taxes generating more than $560 million a year.

Those taxes may eventually pay for regulation, but in the startup phase, Kohler said, Gov. Chris Gregoire would ask the Legislature to let the LCB tap existing funds to hire 40 new staffers, most of them enforcement officers.

Kohler said she'd like more information on how much pot Washingtonians use now, because, "Consumption will drive the number of stores, and the production."

At the hearing, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, asked about the law's conflict with federal prohibition of marijuana. Kohler said Gregoire planned to talk with federal authorities a second time, but her agency was proceeding regardless.

"We're not sure we'll get any direction from the federal government," she said.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @jmartin206.

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