This week, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) held the first two of six public forums it intends to host across Washington State regarding the implementation of Initiative 502. The first forum was held at the WSLCB Headquarters in Olympia on Tuesday night. According to news reports, hundreds of people flocked to the event to not only provide comments, but to be part of history. Board members were surprised to see that there was standing room only at the event. WSLCB Chair Sharon Foster opened the forum with one word, “Wow!” The Board admitted that they had underestimated how many people would attend the public forums.
Last night’s I-502 public forum in Seattle had a similar turnout. As an article in this morning’s Seattle Times put it, “They came in suits and cowboy hats, with cropped gray hair and long ponytails, and they filled one room at Seattle City Hall and spilled into another, about 400 strong.” At the beginning of the forum, Board members took time to briefly explain the new law to attendees and describe the steps in the rulemaking process that WSLCB will take over the coming months to implement I-502. They also emphasized the importance of public input.
Following that introduction, there were comments directed specifically at the taxes the new law intends to impose. Some urged that the 25% excise tax that will be applied at each level of the licensing system that will eventually be created – producer to a processor, processor to a retailer, and retailer to the customer – is too high. Others countered that the tax was necessary. WSLCB officials noted that they do not have the authority to change the taxes that were voted for by the public. Instead, a change to the tax structure would have to come from the legislature. During the first two years a change to the initiative would require a two thirds majority.