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Washington state names "pot czar" after legalizing marijuana

Marijuana is broken up for use by customers at Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington on December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Nick Adams
Marijuana is broken up for use by customers at Frankie Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, Washington on December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Nick Adams

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The state of Washington, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November, has hired its first "pot czar," a $300-per-hour consulting firm that will help sort out the complexities of setting up and regulating a cannabis market.

Botec Analysis Corp, a Massachusetts-based think tank specializing in crime and drug policy, was chosen for the job over 112 other applicants, the state's Liquor Control Board said on Tuesday.

In November, Washington state and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize marijuana for recreational use following popular votes in both states. Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.

The new law in Washington state will ultimately permit cannabis to be sold and taxed at state-licensed stores in a system to be modeled after those in many states for alcohol sales. The Liquor Control Board has until December to set up such a system.

Botec Chief Executive Mark Kleiman will supervise a 30-member team, billing the state at $300 per hour, according to the Liquor Control Board, which has allocated an initial $100,000 for the project. Kleiman teaches public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles and has written a book about marijuana legalization.

Botec's subcontractors will include the California-based RAND Corporation and Steep Hill Lab, a marijuana testing facility in Oakland, California.

"The world's eyes are upon us and failing is not an option," David Lampach, Steep Hill's co-founder, told a news conference in Olympia announcing the selection.

The terms of a contract between Botec and the Liquor Control Board were being negotiated and would be finalized after a brief period in which other bidders can challenge the selection, officials said.

"This team's lead members and subcontractors are among the world's leading experts on marijuana and drug policy," board chairwoman Sharon Foster said in a statement. "Their credentials speak for themselves."

Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. The U.S. Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to block the state laws in Washington and Colorado.

In Washington state, it remains a crime to sell, cultivate or share the drug, drive under the influence of pot or imbibe in places where alcohol is illegal.

In California, a state lawmaker on Tuesday announced proposed legislation to bring medical marijuana under control of the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)

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