Wash. picks Mass. firm for pot consultant contract

SEATTLE – Washington state has tentatively chosen a Massachusetts-based firm led by a University of California, Los Angeles, professor to be its official marijuana consultant.

Botec Analysis Corp. is based in Cambridge, Mass., and has evaluated government programs and provided consulting relating to drug abuse, crime and public health. Losing bidders for the contract can protest the award, but if it stands, Botec will advise Washington state officials as they develop rules for the state’s new industry in legal, taxed marijuana.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board scheduled an announcement on the award of the contract for this morning, but it sent an email to losing bidders Monday letting them know who won.

Botec is headed by Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA. Kleiman declined to comment Monday afternoon, saying he did not want to pre-empt the board’s public announcement.

Washington and Colorado last year became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults 21 and older can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis. Sales are expected to begin at the end of the year at the earliest.

The votes left state officials with a daunting task: figuring out how to build a huge pot industry from scratch. The state’s Liquor Control Board must determine how many growers and stores there should be, how much pot should be produced, how it should be packaged, and how it should be tested to ensure people don’t get sick.

The board is doing a lot of its own research, with buttoned-up bureaucrats traveling to grow operations in California and Colorado as well as within Washington state, but the input from the consultant also will be key. The state is aiming to produce just enough marijuana to meet current demand: Producing too little would drive up prices and help the black market flourish, while producing too much could lead to excess pot being trafficked out of state.

All the while, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department still has not announced whether it will sue in an effort to block the licensing schemes from taking effect.

Kleiman has previously argued that states can’t legalize the recreational use of marijuana because the federal government would never stand for it.

“Pot dealers nationwide – and from Canada, for that matter – would flock to California to stock up,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in 2010, when California was considering legalizing marijuana. “There’s no way on earth the federal government is going to tolerate that. Instead, we’d see massive federal busts of California growers and retail dealers, no matter how legal their activity was under state law.”

Some drug-reform advocates were quick to question his team’s selection.

“You might ask him if he’s either changed his mind or if he intends to advise the state on undermining the will of the voters,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, wrote in an email.