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Washington Now Backpedaling on Number of Legal Pot Grows

The state Liquor Control Board received more than 2,800 applications from people hoping to grow the weed that will supply Washington’s recreational marijuana stores when they open later this year. In all, the applications would have covered 36 million square feet of marijuana plants, vastly more than the 2 million the board wanted produced initially.

To solve the problem, the three-member board voted unanimously Wednesday to limit applicants to one license apiece, rather than three. And it decided to allow growers to produce 70 percent of the maximum growing space they applied for. For example, those who applied for three of the largest licenses—up to 90,000 square feet total—will be limited to just one license enabling them to grow 21,000 square feet, at least at first.

“Everybody recognized we had too many applicants and too much canopy,” board director Rick Garza said afterward.

The state is in uncharted territory as it tries to allow enough marijuana to be grown so that the prices will compete with the black market, but not so much that excess pot finds its way out of state—a concern the U.S. Justice Department cited when it said it would allow the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado to go forward. In Colorado, where taxed, legal pot sales began on Jan. 1, officials licensed existing medical marijuana shops to sell weed for recreational use. There is no cap on production.

Washington expects to issue its first pot-growing licenses on March 1, Garza said.

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