WSLCB - Focus Group - High THC Products
(July 10, 2024)

Wednesday July 10, 2024 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM Observed
WSLCB Enforcement Logo

As many of you may be aware, several versions of a high THC bill were considered during the 2024 legislation session. Ultimately, HB 2320 was passed and aims to mitigate some of the unintended harm that may be caused by cannabis products with high levels of THC. At LCB, we feel like there may be more that could be done to protect the health and safety of consumers and we’d like to hear from this community to better understand your needs and interests in this area. We also want to hear about your reservations or concerns related to potential changes in legislation.

from the event announcement (June 20th)


Staff and attendees traded ideas for collaboration around messaging and regulation of high THC items, along with developing more respectful dialogue between industry and public health groups.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday July 10th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) focus group on “high THC” products.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • Agency leadership shared their impressions and takeaways from an earlier focus group on high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products.
    • The first focus group on the subject was hosted on June 26th. 
    • Public Health Education Liaison Kristen Haley acknowledged the Wednesday event had more limited attendance, and suggested there could be “a different kind of conversation” between staff and interested parties present (audio - 1m, Presentation, Notes).
    • Haley and other agency leads talked about what they’d gleaned from the June 26th discussion and solicited “lingering questions or thoughts that you all had.” She also indicated that the presentation included current and potential policy changes for high THC items, hoping to “get folks’ take on all of those considerations.” Her top takeaway was that “how we frame issues matters,” and between agency staff, industry members, the “cannabis community, and certainly…partners in public health, I heard a lot of confusion or frustration.” One example of problematic language usage included “psychosis and, and schizophrenia are sometimes talked about interchangeably, but there's…distinct differences between both of those conditions, there's differences in who is vulnerable to those conditions.” Haley stated that, “talking about psychosis, in a very specific, contextualized way” was an important point “I plan to take back to our public health partners” (audio - 6m).
      • Haley felt nuance was “lost sometimes when we're doing things…like research briefs, or fact sheets” that might have “five citations on a thing. And not all of those citations are weighted equally.” She had taken to heart the need for mindfulness over “what we're listing as citations and how we're contextualizing those citations.”
      • Education around high THC products was “not only needed, but wanted,” said Haley, and this was also important among public health interests. She noted, “I think that's going to be a key strategy.”
      • Haley then mentioned how the request in the last focus group meeting for additional research topics had opened “floodgates” of ideas from attendees. She was appreciative that many of the ideas “offered were different than the types of research ideas that we brainstorm in public health.” Haley said she’d “shared some of the ideas and…wheels started turning a million miles per hour…we never even thought about that.” There were going to be opportunities for collaboration, she predicted. 
      • Haley remarked, “people gave really good feedback for the rollout of the [HB] 2320 signage” creating health warnings about cannabis concentrates which would be developed by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). “Some folks listed things like talking points for budtenders,” which she was certain “our partners at DOH hadn't considered yet.”
      • “I'll be honest, it wasn't until this call on the 26th that I had heard the term ‘predatory’” had been applied to those in the cannabis industry “by folks in public health,” commented Haley. She said the point had been made at “other times and other sidebars I've had with other folks from the cannabis community,” and it was “not lost on me that that would be offensive, and not set up a good partnership or relationship.” Moreover, she would be talking with those in the public health spheres “about how we're framing conversations and talking about folks…and talking about practices.” Haley stressed that just like the diverse attitudes and interests in the licensed cannabis sector, public health and substance prevention were not a “monolith.” She added that it would “turn down the temperature a little if folks could just have better tone and terminology.”
      • Another point Haley had taken from the prior focus group was a need for “more chances to have these sort of informal, open ended” dialogues separate from “the structured setting of our rulemaking.” She pointed out “on the public health side, we have our quarterly roundtables, which are spaces where we're intentionally, it's closed doors so that public health feels safe to talk more freely,” wondering whether similar dedicated events for cannabis community interests would be useful. “Usually we have a semi-structure,” she noted, like guest speakers or when “folks ask us to go into certain topics or to open the floor to certain topics,” curious if there was interest in “a similar model on the, the cannabis industry side.”
      • Haley subsequently explained that she “did huddle up with some of my prevention partners…and they were hungry for more of this, you know, insights into what interests all of you.” She insisted, “some folks were mortified that that's been the perception.” The “hybrid conversation that we hope to have, later this summer, might be a good first step” into a new dialogue “where we bring many different kinds of partners to the same space” (audio - 2m).
    • Board Member Jim Vollendroff acknowledged the value of getting together and “talking without…an agenda.” He’d appreciated the last focus group meeting and was "hopeful that we can continue to have these kinds of conversations." While differing sides wouldn’t always reach consensus, he suggested it was beneficial to “understand where we come from.” He also wanted there to be fewer “surprises” with legislation on the topic, trying to “have conversations before session starts so that we're not seeing bills dropped that we weren't aware of” (audio - 4m).
      • Following the first focus group meeting on June 26th, Vollendroff had spoken with Haley about the rhetoric around cannabis, and he thought “there's opportunity for us both to recognize how we can work better together and just having these kinds of conversations.” 
      • Vollendroff also addressed "harm reduction," describing himself as a long-time “proponent of prevention…and it's taken a while, frankly, for the prevention world to understand that there is a role of harm reduction in prevention.” When abstinence was seen as the only goal, “what that did was left out a whole group of people, whether it's individuals using cannabis, or parents who have young people who are experimenting with cannabis, around tools and resources.” Vollendroff saw the “role of prevention, just evolving over time to be more open.”
      • Vollendroff added he’d “started getting invitations from industry conferences, local Washington state industry conferences, for prevention…and I think that's a huge step, and a huge opportunity for us.” He wanted to consider what that dialogue could look like, and set agendas for meetings that achieved “real progress in terms of how we're trying to approach our role and responsibility around youth and young adults in particular, and the products that we regulate and opportunities to work with the industry” (audio - 1m).
    • Director of Policy and External Affairs Justin Nordhorn echoed the feeling that “we've made a lot of strides in the last few years on creating understanding” among cannabis sector and public health interests. It was important that people “don't have…absolutes and [recognize] what's actually happening.” Focusing on risk mitigation, Nordhorn expected “crossover will really flourish when folks can see” each others’ points of view. Having talked to “both public health and industry, I don't think…the interest points are all that far apart. So it's just a matter of…creating that stronger understanding” (audio - 2m).
    • Director of Legislative Relations Marc Webster acknowledged he hadn’t attended the previous focus group, but had reviewed Haley’s notes and agreed that part of “reducing the temperature or getting people on the same page is that we can have more really concrete discussions about the likely impact of various policy choices.” He mentioned in 2023, Micah Sherman, Raven Co-Owner and Washington Sun and Craft Growers Association (WSCA) Board Member and National Craft Cannabis Coalition (NCCC) Member, had been “instrumental” in commenting on the impact of “an ad valorem tax” based on THC concentration. Webster had recognized the possibility that “you're pushing people towards a different kind of consumption, you're not necessarily getting at, the underlying thing that you're trying to get at…people are going to make real world decisions based on that policy.” He didn’t want a simplistic narrative of the “industry circling their wagons” to eclipse real concerns about possible regulatory changes related to high THC items, as well as “all the things we've discussed around the kind of broken medical market” which emerged during the passage of HB 1453 (“Providing a tax exemption for medical cannabis patients,” audio - 2m).
    • Haley emphasized true "problem solving" only happened when different interests acknowledged they were "part of the same team." She further felt another point worth remembering was the "elephant in the room of online sales,” and that for all the regulations of the licensed market, “if this entire industry exists underground…then all of these other things are just potentially going to drive people to the convenience of ordering online” (audio - 1m).
    • Caitlein Ryan, The Cannabis Alliance Executive Director, spoke up later in the meeting to say that some members of the cannabis sector had taken time to warm up to the idea that “this isn't a trick" and felt there were lots of other research topics worth looking into after years of studies geared towards cannabis harms. Haley relayed that she’d talked to Research Program Manager Sarah Okey and the two were considering ways to "create a forum" for having more of those conversations. Haley indicated they also wanted to "think through the next step" towards research funding (audio - 2m).
  • Several attendees offered ideas for regulatory actions around restricting online sales of cannabinoid products, as well as consumer protection, medical dimensions of cannabis products, and an upcoming symposium by the University of Washington Addictions, Drug, and Alcohol Institute (UW ADAI).
    • Lukas Hunter, Harmony Farms Director of Compliance and Government Affairs, shared his frustration from “a long standing history of the cannabis industry and the prevention community, not touching base or not having a forum where they can touch base.” He agreed interests could “butt heads” during the legislative session, yet “when…I'm up testifying before the legislature right after someone's talking about their kid that bought a…bag of gummies” online, it could be difficult to quickly address that there’s a “whole other sector that we have a very hard time having control over” which makes cannabinoid products available with negligible age verification, if at all (audio - 3m).
      • Haley chimed in to say WSLCB staff field complaints about “vape devices that are unmarked” and have to explain the agency didn’t allow such items to be sold. She speculated about possible “training that maybe industry folks can put on for public health folks that like level set and help people understand” a common frame of reference for the topic, or tips for parents around “what is and isn't part of the regulated market.” She added, “rallying folks on both sides to address the internet issue would be great,” but they’d already learned “there is no…owner of the internet we can go and send a cease and desist letter to.”
    • Micah Sherman asked whether “anybody at the AG’s [Attorney General’s] office has thought about sending a cease and desist letter to Visa” regarding payment processing, specifically, if “there might be a method to not let payments from Washington state credit cards be processed on these websites” (audio - 2m).
      • Webster indicated another approach involved warning shipping companies unlicensed cannabinoid items couldn’t be lawfully mailed. The same thing occurred with alcohol, he said, “there are tons of internet shipping, totally untaxed, undercutting…the regulated industry. And just saying like, you know, FedEx” had requirements around mailing alcohol, they could take action if a company shipped large quantities of “something called,...‘Tequila Direct.’ It might have alcohol.”
      • Vollendroff commented that he would raise the matter in an upcoming meeting he had with counsel for the agency, as well as “around the medicinal claim…places that are advertising that they can get you a medical card here in Washington state, when [you couldn’t with] the way our law’s set up.” 
    • Hunter argued that when there were changes in gun laws, “there's a very quick and sustained change of ‘we will not ship…these attachments, we will not ship these parts, we will not do any commerce with Washington state.’” He assumed it might be “because we have the ATF [U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] and…they're going to do a strict job of enforcement. But I'm wondering what sort of tactics are used in that, and if that could be something we could look to” regarding online cannabinoid sales. Nordhorn called it "fairly difficult" to compare ATF and cannabis regulations as “this isn't necessarily what current state is. But we were doing tobacco work…with the United States Post Office to try to curb illicit and untaxed cigarettes coming into the state.” He reported that staff had smelled cannabis in packaging at a distribution center, yet “they weren't really able to combat that.” More broadly, Nordhorn wasn’t sure “when we look at any type of illicit market sale, just like we did when…legalization occurred is, how do we create the avenue for products if they're safe…to go through a legal chain.” While Washington lawmakers had prohibited any products with detectable amounts of THC from being sold outside of licensed retailers, “you have this whole bulk of product out there…states are shipping this stuff out [with no way] to explore what this should look like in a controlled environment” (audio - 4m).
    • Haley turned to consumer protection, stating that she’d met with DOH representatives and Director of Enforcement and Education Chandra Wax about public education around the dangers of online sales. She remarked that the “advertising for all of these, whether it's in state or out of state, these hemp derived THC products are very legitimate looking, they're very well done. As someone with a marketing background, it's painfully impressive to me when I look at some of these websites, and I see some of the ads that people send me.” Director Will Lukela joked that "we could just shut down this thing that they call the Internet,” remembering that computer sales hadn’t been a common practice when he was in college (audio - 3m).
    • Ryan was curious whether WSLCB staff would be attending the UW ADAI Symposium, “Cannabis, Schizophrenia, and Other Psychotic Disorders: Moving Away from Reefer Madness Toward Science” set for September 19th. Haley responded that some agency officials would attend, but none were speaking. Vollendroff remarked he would be attending and participating. Ryan encouraged scheduling the “hybrid” meeting of public health and cannabis communities ahead of that event, as the 2022 event was “where some of the more political rhetoric starts to come out.” Haley promised she’d be having "several heart to hearts" in the coming weeks around some "unintended consequences” of the language around high THC products, remarking “that 2022 symposium comes up all the time…it’s almost like synonymous with…talking poorly about the industry” (audio - 2m).
      • Hunter noted the 2022 UW ADAI symposium had a lot of "us and them rhetoric" and outright “demonization” of the cannabis sector. He hoped to have more industry voices at the upcoming September event in order to build more bridges between public health and cannabis industry representatives. Haley was appreciative of the “vulnerability” expressed by Ryan and other participants, and respectfully asked that people “keep an open mind that [the remarks of a few were] not necessarily reflective of the entire public health and prevention space” (audio - 7m).
        • Vollendroff said claims by cannabis industry members had also gotten excessive, taking issue with the assertion that "cannabis addiction is not real. I’ve heard that." Having spoken at the UW ADAI event in 2022, he “was struck by some of the same things” mentioned by Hunter. He respected UW ADAI staff work without agreeing with everything they asserted, and acknowledged he would raise the topic in his next meeting with Beatriz Carlini, UW ADAI Research Scientist, and ADAI Cannabis Education and Research Program (CERP) Director.
    • Sherman advised that licensed producers weren’t well situated to respond to "medicalized claims that get made" in public health circles, and felt this was more the purview of regulators like WSLCB or DOH. He hoped to see more public health advocates join in to “bring down that temperature level, again, because we can sort of defer to the sort of white coat privilege” (audio - 4m).
      • A former DOH staffer, Haley was confident the medical cannabis team and program helped the “lifespan spectrum of people who are using medical cannabis,” whereas the prevention work of the department was “solely for youth cannabis prevention and education.” However, she claimed there was no infrastructure at DOH dedicated to harm reduction and safety of adult cannabis consumers.
      • Ryan noted her child had a medical condition that could be helped with cannabis “which actually does make my conversation with the other kids very easy, and they're very willing to just sort of wait. And some of that has to do with their insight of cannabis…as medicine within our family.” 
  • Staff had little time to go over high THC policy considerations around education, labeling, taxation, and product restrictions before a participant noted some stores collected customer data that could prove useful for researchers.
    • Haley quickly identified the policy concepts had been “generated over conversations [with representatives at] the national level talking about exploring in their state, some of these things I've heard come up from public health partners, from various folks across the industry” (audio - <1m).
      • The considerations in Haley’s presentation were broken into existing activities and strategies covered in rule or by HB 2320:
        • Public education
        • Budtender education
        • Increased research (about products, existing data analysis, AND consumer behavior)
      • Plus, other ideas which would require dedicated rulemaking and/or had been proposed in prior THC legislation:
        • Packaging and/or labeling changes
        • Tiered tax structure
        • Age-gating
        • Advertising restrictions
        • THC % cap
        • Structural changes in retail stores
    • Hunter brought up Dutchie, an ”all-in-one technology platform powering the cannabis industry with Point of Sale, Ecommerce, Payments, and Insurance,” as staff for their subsidiary Green Bits had worked with Harmony Farms personnel on an issue with sub-lotting their cannabis years earlier. He noted, “they were very open and excited about their data collection,” specifically around retail sales as the company could track “US consumers’ drivers license, every time that you go into a store that uses Dutchie-Green Bits, they use that as a key identifier.” This meant you could track a consumer’s buying patterns which could be a useful dataset for regulators, speculating that other sales software in the industry might save similar consumer information (audio - 6m).
      • Nordhorn presumed WSLCB would have to enter into a data agreement, but acknowledged that "would be very interesting" and could potentially be anonymized to look at broader consumer trends rather than individuals. He felt that the data was “probably not something that they're going to offer up for analysis” absent a contract.
      • Sherman wasn’t excited about the prospect. “I was part of that…data sharing agreement task force that happened when we were talking about the traceability switchover. And I certainly don't think it would be legal for the State to enter into getting personalized data from a private company, nor do I think that's an appropriate suggestion.” Nordhorn understood that, and said agency leaders would be interested to “have aggregate consumer type of analysis,” not individual sales information. Sherman observed that if “one of those companies is using ID checking to do that” then it would be “incredibly upsetting to me. And I'm gonna make sure to be doing something about that, because I don't think that that's at all appropriate…and I think that's probably illegal.”
        • Board members denied a rulemaking petition in November 2022 to restrict customer data collection by cannabis retailers, agreeing with a staff recommendation that the "compliance activity that would be required to enforce the rule are outside of the LCB scope of authority and expertise." Board Chair David Postman suggested they learn more about the practice.
      • Webster stated that WSLCB had previously bought data from Headset for insights into the cannabis market, and agreed that at an “aggregate level, it can be potentially illuminating.” Since under HB 2320 agency officials would need to capture data around high THC items and responding to “those kind of really broad based questions that we're going to be answering from” Cannabis Central Reporting System (CCRS) data, any other dataset they could use to validate their analysis would help. Haley mentioned the International Cannabis Policy Survey (ICPS), whose principal researcher previously shared information with the board. Webster added that they had already contracted with Whitney Economics to determine county thresholds for cannabis retailers, and felt they could provide “very different assessments of the state of play right now.”
  • An industry leader asked about specific legislation anticipated by WSLCB staff, who promised better communication ahead of future focus groups.
    • Ryan inquired, “are you all anticipating more legislation around prevention and cannabis in this upcoming session” in 2025, and particularly “related to THC concentration” (audio - 1m).
      • Haley responded there was “always something,” but she hadn’t seen a draft of anything for the coming year.
      • Vollendroff agreed Representative Lauren Davis continued to be concerned about the items, though when he’d seen her at a recent event “she didn't tell me anything specific that she was planning.” Nonetheless, he expected a bill as that’s “just her style and how she operates.”
      • Webster believed there had been more conversations related to alcohol prevention this year, and less related to cannabis control “at this stage.”
    • Haley thanked the group and assured attendees she would work with colleagues “to see a frequency that makes sense for us to continue conversations like this, and also a better communication strategy to make sure more people are aware of these calls happening” in the future (audio - 1m).

Information Set

Segment - 01 - Welcome - Kristen Haley (1m 3s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 02 - Agenda Review - Kristen Haley (1m 18s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 03 - Previous Event Takeaways - Kristen Haley (5m 58s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 04 - Previous Event Takeaways - Jim Vollendroff (3m 41s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 05 - Previous Event Takeaways - Kristen Haley (2m 1s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 06 - Previous Event Takeaways - Jim Vollendroff (1m 2s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 07 - Previous Event Takeaways - Justin Nordhorn (1m 45s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 08 - Previous Event Takeaways - Marc Webster (1m 59s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 09 - Previous Event Takeaways - Kristen Haley (1m 6s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 10 - Discussion - Online Sales of Hemp-Derived Products - Lukas Hunter (3m 27s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 11 - Question - AG Cease and Desist Letter to Visa - Micah Sherman (2m 17s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 12 - Question - Restricting Online Sales in Other Sectors - Lukas Hunter (4m 26s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 13 - Discussion - Consumer Protection - Kristen Haley (3m 18s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 14 - Previous Event Takeaways - Caitlein Ryan (2m 9s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 15 - Question - 2025 Legislation - Caitlein Ryan (1m 28s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 16 - Question - UW ADAI Symposium - Caitlein Ryan (2m 24s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 17 - Discussion - Medicinal Dimensions of Cannabis - Micah Sherman (4m 15s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 18 - Question - UW ADAI Symposium - Response - Lukas Hunter (7m 12s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 19 - Current Considerations - Kristen Haley (26s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 20 - Question - Sharing and Analysis of Integrator Data - Lukas Hunter (6m 24s) InfoSet ]
Segment - 21 - Wrapping Up - Kristen Haley (57s) InfoSet ]

Engagement Options


Number: +1 564-999-2000
Conference ID: 347 863 027#

Information Set