Wash. picks Mass. firm for pot consultant contract

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Associated Press

Posted on March 18, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 18 at 9:00 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — 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 Tuesday morning, but it sent an email to losing bidders Monday letting them know who won. A copy of the email was provided to The Associated Press.

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 over 21 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 will also 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.

The board has advertised for consulting services in four categories. The first is "product and industry knowledge" and requires "at least three years of consulting experience relating to the knowledge of the cannabis industry, including but not limited to product growth, harvesting, packaging, product infusion and product safety."

Other categories cover quality testing, including how to test for levels of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high; statistical analysis of how much marijuana the state's licensed growers should produce; and the development of regulations, a category that requires a "strong understanding of state, local or federal government processes," with a law degree preferred.

Botec, founded in the mid-1980s, has previously performed a variety of work with government agencies. It studied the results of an effort to crack down on heroin dealers in Lynn, Mass., and in the early 1990s advised the Office of National Drug Control Policy on drug-demand reduction programs.

Kleiman has written several books on drug policy and crime, including "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know."

Khurshid Khoja, a corporate lawyer from San Francisco, was involved in a bid that included Ed Rosenthal, a co-founder of High Times magazine and a recognized expert on marijuana cultivation. Khoja said he was disappointed not to get the contract, and mulling a protest not necessarily to challenge Botec's win, but to learn where his team's bid fell short.

Regardless, Khoja said, he hopes Washington and Colorado's laws are allowed to stand.

"Hopefully the feds will cooperate so Washington won't be sending money down the drain," he said.

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Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle .

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