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August 28, 2014     Shelton Mason County Journal
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August 28, 2014

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Page C-16 - Mason County Journal - Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 SHARON FOSTER, chairwoman of the Washington state Liquor Control Board Sharon Foster is the chairwoman of the Washington state Liquor Control Board, the agency that was given the job, through Initia- tive 502, of writing and administering the rules for the state's recreational marijuana busi- nesses. Members of the board had to decide di- vergent matters such as how much marijuana should be grown to supply the stores, what labels on edibles should look like, and how to screen potential producers, processors and re- tailers. Foster has worked around the Capitol for years, as a lobbyist and also as the state director of the YMCA Youth in Government program. She learned in 2012, soon after the state ended its control of alcohol sales, that her agency would be in charge of the unprecedented task of starting up a government-sanctioned marijuana retail trade. They were given roughly a year to write the rules. Question: You joined the board in August 2009 and your duty then was strictly alcohol. When did you first become aware that marijua- na was going to be put in the Liquor Control Board's purview? Foster: Once we saw the initiative and start- ed watching the polls [in 2012], we knew pretty early that it was probably going to pass. My re- action was, "Wow. Read it, Sharon, and see how much time you've got before you have to have it in place.' Because we had just gone through (alcohol) privatization, we had 11 teams in place ... we had six months to get out of a busi- ness that we'd been in for almost 80 years. So we had 11 teams in the agency on how to divest ourselves of all that. We really just moved those 11 teams over into handling marijuana ... There wasn't really any time to catch our breath." Question: Once you started getting in- volved in learning about marijuana, how soon was it before you realized how little you knew about marijuana? Foster: I didn't know anything. I really didn't. I'll never forget when it passed in No- vember and Dean (her husband) and I went to Mexico for a couple weeks in December. I was lying by the pool and I had a book on mari- juana that I was reading and almost everyone that walked by wanted to stop and talk about it. That book -'Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know' - was really impor- tant for me to read. And from there, we took it one step at a time ... we had a couple of staff people that really, really could get down into the weeds and learn it and bring it back to us. Photo courtesy of the Washington state Liquor Control Board nal value. There isn't any doubt in my mind. nal element creep in. And more acceptance And there's no doubt in my mind that in years that it is a product that's useful in many ways, Question: There's been a lot of criticism to come, when we're legal and we can do more such as it's nice to share some marijuana after that the Liquor Control Board has been mov- research on it, that we'll find it's an amazing work as it is to have a glass of wine. ing too slow and it's not doing it like Colorado little weed that does amazing things. did. What do you have to say about that? Question: How will the Liquor Control Question: But we're not going to be able to Board be monitoring compliance? Will it be Foster: I will say we're different than Colo- do any research until the federal government over the computer or out in the field? rado. Colorado had a well-regulated medical reschedules marijuana. Right? marijuana law in place. Colorado is vertically integrated, meaning people can be the produc- er, processor and the retailer, which is different than here. In Washington, you cannot be a re- tailer and have an interest in either one of the other two, or vice versa. So, that's a big differ- ence. But the really big difference was they had something in place. We had nothing in place. Question: Why couldn't you have let Wash- ington's existing marijuana dispensaries apply for the licenses? Foster: Because they're not licensed. They're not regulated ... There was absolutely nothing in the initiative that would have al- lowed us just to say, 'Medical, you folks out there who are operating illegally and not pay- ing taxes ..." Question: What's your sense of the medici- nal value of marijuana? Foster: Both. We have a traceability system Foster: I think research is going to go on in so that at any given moment, we know what's this state regardless, going on everywhere with every single producer. Question: There were a lot of people who Question: What do you like about your job? were upset over the board's decision in Febru- ary to decrease the amount of marijuana a pro- Foster: I've never done anything in my ducer could grow. A lot of potential producers whole life - even 20 years of lobbying and all lost a lot of money on that decision. Was that a the other things I've done - that has been as difficult decision to make? intellectually stimulating. Foster: It was the only decision we could make because we had so many producers. If we had let everybody produce at the level (we initially projected), we would have had so much product out there that the feds would have known we had too much product and the chance for diversion was just too high of a risk. Question: What do you hope the recreation- al marijuana business looks like in five years? Foster: I hope it's a respectable industry. I would certainly hope that we don't see a crimi- Foster: I think there's definitely a medici- Question: What don't you like about your job? Does public criticism bother you? Foster: No it doesn't. I certainly took a lot of it during the (public) hearings that we did all over the state ... and the ugly things that came across on emails and telephones that really bordered on threats ... that I've ruined people's lives. I don't think that's ever comfort- able for anybody to get those kinds of com- ments. - Kirk Ericson