Washington State Takes Final Step In Legalizing Recreational Pot

By Jimmy Lovaas

SEATTLE, July 7 (Reuters) - Washington state takes the final step in legalizing recreational marijuana use on Monday when officials begin to issue retail licenses to stores that could begin selling cannabis 24 hours later.

State regulators have accepted 334 marijuana retail applications. Only about 20 stores are expected to open on Tuesday. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has said many applicants have not passed final inspections, and some municipalities also have banned the retail sale of marijuana.

More stores will open as state inspectors sign off on applications.

Washington is the second state after Colorado to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana to adults, under a heavily regulated and taxed system that voters approved in November 2012.

Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, but the U.S. Justice Department has said it will not intervene in states with "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems."

Once a retailer receives a marijuana license, the business is cleared to place an order with a licensed processor that must quarantine the product for 24 hours before delivering it to stores. Retailers must scan the barcoded inventory and enter the data into a statewide computer-tracking system.

Customers will be allowed to buy up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana. They also can buy up to 16 ounces (0.454 kg) of marijuana-infused product in solid form or up to 72 ounces (two kg) of marijuana-infused product in liquid form.

Regulators, business owners and analysts say pot could sell out within hours or days at the shops set to open on Tuesday.

The shortage is largely because of limited harvests by licensed growers and processors or because they failed to clear regulatory hurdles to get their product to market.

Washington is grappling with a backlog of hundreds of would-be growers who must be screened by the state Liquor Control Board, the agency has said.

Washington state's licensing effort is part of a U.S. trend to loosen pot laws. In the District of Columbia, backers of legal marijuana in the U.S. capital are expected to submit petitions on Monday to put the issue on the November ballot.

Voters in Alaska are slated to vote on pot legalization in November. (Reporting by Jimmy Lovaas; Editing by Ian Simpson and Jan Paschal)



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