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Olympia bar owner willing to fight to keep pot smokers

Washington state officials said Wednesday it's not OK for bars to allow marijuana use, and they plan to take steps to address that. KIRO Radio's Andrew Walsh Show got in touch with one bar owner that's been allowing it and says he wants to keep allowing it. (AP Photo/file)

Washington state officials said Wednesday it’s not OK for bars to allow marijuana use, and they plan to take steps to close loopholes.

The announcement from the state Liquor Control Board followed a report by The Associated Press about establishments in Olympia and Tacoma that allow people to get high on-site.

The board said it knew of only two bars that allow on-site pot use, and learned of both from media reports: Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, less than a mile from the board’s headquarters, and the Stonegate in Tacoma.

Frank Schnarr, owner of Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia, joined KIRO Radio’s Andrew Walsh Show Wednesday to talk about the announcement.

Schnarr has been allowing pot smoking at his bar in a private upstairs smoking room that charges $10 for admission. The bars have tried to get around the ban on public use of marijuana by having “private rooms” with a nominal membership fee required for entrance.

“They passed the law that it’s legal to smoke marijuana, but you can’t smoke it in public. So you can’t smoke it at a bus stop. You can’t smoke it near a school. But you can smoke it in a private area,” said Schnarr. “So I have a private room that you pay in order to come in there. That makes it private because you have a choice to come into my establishment, a freedom of choice to come in here.”

Washington legalized recreational pot use for adults with I-502 last fall, but public display and use of marijuana is barred, punishable by a civil infraction carrying a $103 fine.

The Liquor Control Board’s rules allow it to punish bars that let criminal activity happen on-site, but not bars that allow civil infractions. Regulators want to close that loophole.

The board intends to require all liquor-license holders to ban marijuana use, said board spokesman Brian Smith. Violators could be hit with fines or see their licenses suspended or revoked.

“They don’t want to see the proliferation of this type of activity,” Smith said.

But Schnarr said the pot smokers in his bar are actually much easier to control than heavy drinkers.

“The people that smoke marijuana are more controlled physically, mentally-wise than a drunk,” said Schnarr. “If you get a drunk in my bar, we have to control it. The liquor board makes us responsible for people that drink alcohol. Now they should make us responsible for people that smoke marijuana.”

In the past few months, Schnarr said he’s actually seen a significant increase in business, and he will fight back if the state tries to block pot smoking in his bar.

“I was about ready to lose my business three months ago. My business is up I would say 40 percent,” said Schnarr. “I’ll continue to fight it […] I’ll take it to court.”

Schnarr reminds people the state made all this legal. “If it’s a crisis, don’t pass it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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