The Cannabis Alliance - WA Cannabis Summit - 2021 - State of the State Address
(September 23, 2021)

Thursday September 23, 2021 10:15 AM - 10:30 AM Observed
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State of the State Address by David Postman – Chair, Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board

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Observations

WSLCB Board Chair David Postman provided an opening keynote speech reflecting on his work and the status of the agency before answering questions of concern to conference attendees.

Here are some observations from the Thursday September 23rd Washington State Cannabis Summit opening keynote hosted by the Cannabis Alliance.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Caitlein Ryan, the Cannabis Alliance Interim Executive Director and Board President, introduced Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Chair David Postman, who remarked on his relationship with the organization’s members.
    • Ryan told attendees Postman had been appointed as chair “effective March 15th” and that “prior to his appointment, David served as Governor Jay Inslee’s chief of staff from December 2015 until November of 2020.” She laid out Postman’s prior experience on Inslee’s staff, as Senior Communications Director for Vulcan, Inc., and a ”26 year career as an award winning journalist,” including as a political reporter for the Seattle Times (audio - 1m).
    • Postman opened his remarks by saying the summit represented “one of the larger groups” he’d been able to address since becoming chair and, “as a long time political reporter,” he knew speakers frequently opened with platitudes and “trying to remember what group they are speaking before and say ‘it’s great to be there.’ So let me back it up with a few facts” (audio - 4m).
      • After his appointment, Postman met with Ryan, Alliance Government Affairs Liaison Lara Kaminsky, and lobbyist Alan Ralston on behalf of the group. He had been with the agency long enough to “understand that there are different people who do their jobs differently” which made him grateful that the Cannabis Alliance had been a stakeholder group “engaging with the LCB in a respectful, and constructive...and productive way. I wish that wasn’t of such note, but it is.” Postman further considered it “meaningful” that “when there’s a policy disagreement, the alliance doesn’t lead with addressing ill motive to somebody who came up with the policy position,” and instead was able to “disagree without being disagreeable.” 
      • Discussing insight he’d gotten from Cannabis Alliance leadership, Postman said Ryan brought up a “proposal” from the Washington State Department of Ecology (WA Ecology) that would “put off some important work on lab certification” which he hadn’t known about and “found it concerning.” WSLCB staff subsequently worked with “people in other agencies and within a matter of days they found a better path.” Postman credited Ryan’s “clear, concise, factual-based way” for opening a dialogue with agency staff “in a way that it might not have happened otherwise.” He added that “staff at large” were benefiting from the engagement as well.
  • Postman talked about how his background informed his work at WSLCB and how his commitment to transparency, candor, and reliable data were brought to bear during a pandemic (audio - 8m).
    • While Inslee's chief of staff, Postman stated that several “things became very important to me” with regards to the operations of state agencies. “Top of that list is real diversity, equity, and inclusion,” (DEI) he said, noting he’d thought about what it meant for “somebody who looks like me to try to make things happen” on that front. Postman indicated that the agency was “in the middle of a strong effort” as part of the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) and the social equity retail program to be administered by WSLCB. Viewing the achievement of equity within the state cannabis sector while addressing the harms of the drug war to be ”a challenge,” he nonetheless considered it “the kind of work we need to do.”
    • “I believe in real transparency,” Postman commented, pointing to his time as a reporter who embraced “public records, open meetings and indicating that Inslee had been “the first governor that we know of in state history to not use executive privilege to withhold documents.” He’d found WSLCB to be “a great example” of transparency via its public records and communications offices.
    • Complementing transparency, but distinct from it, was Postman’s commitment to “candor.” While transparency revealed one’s activities to outsiders, candor ensured that “even in an internal conversation, even a, a one-on-one, people just have to be real.” He believed “government is most successful” when composed of people who “can be who they are as much as possible.”
    • Additionally, Postman said he was “unafraid of debate and dissension.” He credited Inslee as someone who encouraged this, as some leaders “want yes people.” He wanted WSLCB staff to “challenge” him as he asked questions and expressed his opinions on issues. Postman had “a strong, abiding belief in the goodness of public service" and appreciated public servants at all levels of government. He cultivated an "impatient optimism,” a concept picked up from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which he had used to describe Inslee’s attitude in government.
    • “Facts matter to me, a lot," Postman remarked. While acknowledging that "stories" and "emotions" also matter, he emphasized “we need to see real data” before making regulatory changes. After receiving what he called “unfair criticism about the approach of our Enforcement division,” Postman looked into the numbers and found the complaints weren’t borne out by the facts at hand. Nonetheless, “we work every day to improve every bit of the LCB,” he said, adding “Enforcement’s particularly difficult.”
    • Turning to “lessons from the [coronavirus] pandemic,” Postman recalled the “small window of time, where we thought things were getting better” which led the agency and lawmakers to consider what guidance for alcohol or cannabis licensees might be extended or ended. However, “the numbers on the pandemic side are bad,” he said, and licensee allowances were continued in order to “maintain” both industry and public health needs (audio - 4m).
      • The situation had become a chance for regulators and industry members to work together in a “refreshing” way, Postman observed, “because it was what they saw as help.” Although the guidance was intended to be temporary, “it can work as a pilot program...but you also have to be willing to say ‘no, that was a point in time, that was really about that pandemic.’” He noted there was “a lot of pushback” regarding the agency Joints for Jabs program and found it "did not come off very well,” especially among public health officials. Postman said one official told him “you’re my friends, I’m with you, but I also am in charge of trying to, to fight this pandemic.”
      • Postman was open to unconventional policies if they furthered public health and safety, and asked for “communication” from attendees as the pandemic continued. He added, “but then also, engage in the same way, when we have to come out of it.” He also encouraged engagement with Policy and Rules Manager Kathy Hofffman, stating that her staff “works exceptionally well.”
    • Postman asked those with concerns or relevant reading to email him, since “I love to read that stuff.”
  • Attendees voted up questions regarding new license types, Initiative 502 “originalism,” the move from cannabis traceability to reporting, and a potential cannabis commodity commission.
    • Chris Girard asked about Postman’s opinion on “delivery services, consumption lounges, and the winery proposal for small farms” which would include “destination marketing” direct sale of cannabis to adults. Ryan emphasized there could be a benefit “as we’re looking towards federalization” (audio - 5m).
      • Postman noted he was still learning about the subjects and found the comparison to wineries to be a “helpful” frame of reference compared to “craft cannabis and other things that have been tossed around.” He’d spoken to staff about the possibility of any “safe way for growers to sell directly.” Postman had also heard of a “particular interest...in [medical cannabis] patients wanting to shorten the supply chain” to understand where “their product comes from.”
      • He wanted to evaluate “a lot of these proposals in the light of 502” and be an “originalist” as to what that initiative “envision[ed] for cannabis.” Postman preferred changes which “strengthen that vision, versus those that would weaken that, or make...us choose from different pieces of it.” He had encountered people “in the industry” who treated the law as “sacrosanct” as well as those who argued “that’s just the beginning.”
      • Postman considered delivery of cannabis “a more difficult ask at this point" after reviewing “emerging technologies" that had been “pitched to us...to control traceability, access to minors" and other challenges, finding none of it had been “really convincing.” He indicated that there had been a “proposal for [alcohol] rulemaking that we rejected because it was proposing technology that did not yet exist” and he remained opposed to implementing a delivery policy before “we can really be sure that it can be done in a successful way.” Postman then said it wasn't impossible for his position to change, but “it’s not a priority at this point, for me.” Mentioning allowances for curbside pickup of cannabis products during the pandemic, he noted, “we do see some people trying to skirt those laws, which we’re also keeping an eye on.”
      • As for licensing cannabis consumption venues, Postman said he had a meeting on the topic the following week and was “interested to hear from somebody who is a strong advocate for them.”
        • Postman met with me on the topic of cannabis social use on September 29th as a follow up to a presentation I was scheduled to give on the topic to the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis Licensing Work Group on September 22nd. While that presentation was postponed due to other work group business, I spoke to Postman about the topic for over 30 minutes, sharing a document with resource links on relevant state laws and rules; previous consumption venues and events in the state; policies and laws in other jurisdictions; and 2019 legislation I authored on the topic. My impression was that Postman considered lounges similarly to how he considered delivery, as he suggested agency staff had no predisposed opinions on the topic and weren't prioritizing it. He was curious about the equity implications but overall found it unlikely the legislature would take on the issue in 2022. I intend to present to the work group if time allows at a future meeting.
    • Ryan probed more into differing views about the intent of the initiative legalizing cannabis in Washington state, and asked Postman where he fell “on that spectrum” (audio - 3m).
      • Postman replied that he leaned "a little more towards an originalist." As a reporter, he’d learned that although lawmakers were empowered to modify laws passed by initiative, there was “a kind of protection around those initiatives" which "behooves us now to, sort of, hew towards that model." Moreover, he didn’t see it as a state agency’s role to “dismantle that model” or “propose the new one,” as that power should rest with “the voters and/or the legislature.”
      • As regulators, Postman believed WSLCB staff needed to “keep up with innovation” and focus on trying to “stay apace with the botanists and the chemists and the others who are outpacing us in a lot of ways.”
      • There was also an increasing “social and societal acceptance of cannabis as a legalized product,” Postman stated. As for federalization of the cannabis market and the impact on the state, he talked about the push for Washington state to “be the best cannabis industry in the nation.” However, Postman considered that a longer “fight,” being more immediately committed to making “502 the best system there is, and we can improve what we’ve got.”
    • Jim MacRae, Straight Line Analytics Owner, put forward a question asking for Postman’s sentiments about the Cannabis Central Reporting System (CCRS), first presented to the board as a replacement for traceability on August 11th. Adding that much of what she’d heard from membership concerned the implementation timeline, Ryan asked Postman to expound upon how that was determined (audio - 4m).
      • Postman pointed to the September 8th webinar on the transition and remarks from Chief Financial Officer Jim Morgan, saying he wasn’t “intimately involved” in setting the pace for the move to CCRS. Morgan was leading the project, Postman indicated, adding he had “an abundance of faith in [Morgan’s] ability to...manage the program” despite the “tortured history” of traceability.
      • Postman said the board had already heard concerns that this would move “from an overly restrictive [system] to something that is too loosey-goosey,” and channels for feedback remained open and staff were listening to licensees. He assured the group that board members would continue to hear from Morgan and other staff about CCRS and “be an open book on this.” Postman commented that should the timeline change they’d communicate it broadly to stakeholders.
    • Shawn DeNae Wagenseller, Washington Bud Company Co-Owner, mentioned that Alliance members had lobbied for a cannabis commodity commission similar to those in other agricultural sectors, and asked Postman if WSLCB leadership had discussed the possibility (audio - 4m).
      • Postman candidly said what he knew about the subject “largely came from [Caitlein Ryan] and Lara [Kaminsky]”. He’d raised the possibility with “staff leadership” hoping to learn about any previous statements and positions of the agency on the topic. He was “more than open, I’m interested in it,” as it could help the agency since “people look to the LCB for lots of different things” that could be more appropriately managed by a commodity commission. He considered commodity research and promotion part of a developing and “complicated” industry and was ready to discuss it further.
      • Ryan expected that SB 5365 (“Establishing a Washington state cannabis commission”) would be re-introduced during the 2022 legislative session “and pass this year.”

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