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Washington state delays pot licenses in legalization scheme

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state, in a move that will delay legal sales of recreational marijuana until early next year, revised its time frame on Wednesday for issuing licenses to pot growers and processors, an official said.

The delay comes as officials grapple with how to regulate pot months after Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalize the drug for adult recreational use in landmark twin votes in November.

The move by the two states to allow recreational marijuana puts them on a potential collision course with the federal government, which considers marijuana a dangerous, illegal narcotic and does not allow its use for medical treatment.

Under a new timeline crafted by the Washington state Liquor Control Board, which is tasked with overseeing the move to legalize pot, marijuana producers, processors and retailers will be issued licenses starting December 1, spokesman Brian Smith said.

A prior tentative timeline would have seen producers and processors obtain licenses late this summer and fall, respectively. For retailers, it would have been in December.

The new timeline will help pot growers and processors understand the "entire landscape" of the newly created market, such as the number of retail stores, levels of competition and demand, Smith said.

"We think this is a better, more practical process," he said, adding that the new official timeline is based on input from public forums and the state Liquor Control Board's research. "You need to see the whole system."

Smith said it takes growers at least three months to cultivate a pot plant that can be cut and processed, which under the new December 1 date for issuing licenses would push the first legal sales of the drug in Washington state to around the beginning of March.

In Colorado, lawmakers in recent weeks have discussed proposed regulations for allowing recreational sales of the drug in their state. Officials in both states are spending this year working on rules to create state-sanctioned markets for sale of the drug at special stores to adults aged 21 and older.

Washington state and Colorado are among the 20 states which, along with the District of Columbia, allow medical pot.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Cynthia Johnston and Phil Berlowitz)

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