Alison Holcomb, left, criminal justice director at the Washington state ACLU, sniffs a sample of marijuana as she gets ready to make a purchase with help from budtender Pam Fenstermacher on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, at Cannabis City, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson, The Associated Press/Pool)

Retail pot: “It’s amazing,” says Seattle-based I-502 architect Alison Holcomb

Alison Holcomb is a big deal in Washington marijuana.

Not only is Holcomb the criminal justice director for the ACLU of Washington state and my one-time panel-mate on ABC’s “This Week” (hosted by George Stephanopoulos) but she was also the primary drafter of Initiative 502, which Washington voters passed in 2012 to license and regulate marijuana production and distribution and allow the possession and sale of retail marijuana. Once I-502 was filed in June 2011, Holcomb became the campaign director for New Approach Washington, the yes-on-I-502 political action committee that pushed pot legalization to reality in the Pacific Northwest.

We were especially thrilled that Holcomb gave us a few minutes on Monday, a.k.a. Weegalization Eve, to talk about Washington marijuana as the state’s licensed pot shops begin their sales on July 8.

Cannabist: First things first. Where will you be on the morning of July 8?

Holcomb: I will be at Cannabis City, the one Seattle retail store that will be able to open and have product on its shelves tomorrow.



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Cannabist: Anything particularly interesting happening there?

Holcomb: James Lathrop, the owner of the shop, is going to host a press conference at 11:30. He’ll do a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon — high noon — and then he’ll invite people in.

Cannabist: Who else will be there.

Holcomb: Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes will be there, as will others.

Cannabist: What’s the general vibe around Seattle?

Holcomb: People are kind of frantically running around wondering what they’ll be doing. It’s crazy because the mechanics of what has happened.

Cannabist: What had to happen for us to get here?

Holcomb: The state’s Liquor Control Board issued the first licenses this morning (of July 7), and because the regulations they adopted require processors to, once they receive an order from a retail shop, they have to put that order in quarantine for 24 hours to allow spot checks to ensure it’s being tested and everything.

Cannabist: It sounds like one of the last hurdles for a shop to clear — and on such a deadline?

Holcomb: Yes, once (the shops) finalize orders for product, a 24-hour clock is started before that product can be delivered to the store.


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Cannabist: Delivered?

Holcomb: Yes. There’s even a shop in Bellingham, Top Shelf Cannabis, where the owner is still trying to figure out how he could get his marijuana from Bremerton, which is west of Seattle, up to Bellingham as quickly as possible. He’s talking about using crabbing boats or renting a helicopter — it’s that level of nuttiness. People figuring out all of the ways they can get their doors open.

Cannabist: This is a major milestone for you all. How do you feel right now?

Holcomb: It’s amazing. Tomorrow is the opening of a legal, regulated supply of marijuana. We’re turning a corner in the war on drugs. This is no longer about decriminalizing use, which is something many states and countries have already done. This is about tackling the supply side of the chain and taking down the black market for a substance that’s in great demand.

Cannabist: Do you have one concern that’s larger than your other concerns?

Holcomb: I’m glad that the Liquor Control Board moved slowly and cautiously and adapted through regulations. But the challenge we face, because the canopy area that has been licensed is so limited, there’s a real risk of shortages that result in, essentially, blackouts for marijuana and empty shelves.


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Cannabist: And that’s not good for the shoppers or the stores.

Holcomb: The concern with that is retail shops have taxes and overhead they need to pay, and it’s going to be very difficult for them if they cant keep marijuana on the shelf. We don’t want to see these retail operators, who have invested so much time, money and resources, go under because they can’t meet the demand.


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