The three-member board of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) meets weekly in caucus to discuss current issues and receive invited briefings from agency staff.
A new board interim policy was adopted and lots of news on testing labs - plus a public records bonus!
The WSLCB Board has canceled over half of its regularly scheduled public meetings so far this month (five out of eight) including the February 20th Executive Management Team (EMT) meeting. Meanwhile, the Board has privately hosted six executive sessions to discuss pending litigation including three dedicated meetings and three sessions carved out of regularly scheduled public meetings. The Board also met in executive session on Wednesday February 20th, citing RCW 42.30.110(f): “To receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a public officer or employee.”
Here are some observations from the Tuesday February 19th WSLCB Board Caucus…plus a revealing public records bonus at the end.
My top 3 takeaways:
- Members approved a new board interim policy to allow third-party testing laboratories to pay WSLCB directly for annual accreditation conducted by R.J. Lee (audio – 7m).
- WSLCB Policy and Rules Coordinator Kathy Hoffman and WSLCB Marijuana Examiner Manager Kendra Hodgson proposed the interim policy.
- Hoffman explained that WSLCB rule requires initial certification of third-party testing laboratories and for “labs to remain certified for collection of required compliance tests.”
- WSLCB contracted with Columbia Basin College to validate each lab’s “basic proficiencies.” In turn, the College contracted with vendor R.J. Lee to perform the work.
- As of December 31st, Columbia Basin College was no longer contracted with WSLCB. No explanation for the end of the relationship was disclosed.
- Hoffman explained that R.J. Lee “can do the work, but they don’t accept payments from the labs. So LCB can bill the labs—correct?—and then pay R.J. Lee for the services.” Hodgson added that R.J. Lee wouldn’t accept payments directly from cannabis testing laboratories because of “concerns around their federal dollars.”
- The proposed board interim policy, BIP 11-2019, modified the last sentence of WAC 314.55.0995(3)(c) to permit labs to pay WSLCB directly.
- After some discussion, Hoffman relayed her understanding that the Board could take action on the interim policy at the caucus meeting. Board Chair Jane Rushford and Executive Assistant Dustin Dickson confirmed BIPs could be adopted whenever the Board met in quorum. The policy was adopted on Tuesday, effective immediately.
- On Wednesday, in a benign but seemingly unusual twist, the Board scheduled a Special Board Caucus primarily to discuss pending litigation. But the meeting agenda allocated one minute for “Adoption of Board Revised Interim Policy BIP 11-2019” on “Laboratory Certification and Accreditation Requirements.”
- Cannabis Observer contacted Dickson, who replied: “As for the BIP, this is a technical update, erring on the side of caution. While the BIP was presented, discussed, moved and approved in an open public meeting it was not listed specifically on the February 19 Board Caucus agenda. We are taking the extra step in noting it as a line item on the Special Caucus agenda and will re-approve the BIP in the open meeting before moving into the Executive Session. There is no change to the content of the BIP other than the effective date. As you can imagine, this won’t take long, hence the short timeframe noted on the agenda.”
- While this board interim policy is not particularly impactful, Cannabis Observer feels the precedent of approving an interim policy outside of the context of broadcast and recorded Board Meetings is noteworthy. At the time of publication, Board Revised Interim Policy BIP 11-2019 was not yet available on the WSLCB website.
- WSLCB Marijuana Examiner Manager Kendra Hodgson provided an informative update on the agency’s work in relation to the testing labs (audio – 11m).
- Hodgson last briefed agency leadership on oversight of laboratories during the November 14th Executive Management Team meeting. During that meeting, the Board granted Hodgson approval to proceed on eleven recommendations and requested quarterly updates.
- Hodgson framed the current state: “As of November we had 16 labs. To date, we now have 13.”
- Dragon Analytical had been suspended for over a year and therefore must re-certify with WSLCB.
- Steep Hill Labs was “in a transition both on location and ownership” and had been designated inactive.
- Molecular Labs discontinued their WSLCB certification on January 24th. At the time, Molecular was the only certified lab in Washington state able to test cannabis for heavy metals.
- For a cannabis product to be considered a “compliant marijuana product” by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), it must undergo heavy metal screening as defined in WAC 246-70. Therefore, the departure of the last lab certified to test for heavy metals technically precluded the possibility of producers or processors being able to label their products as medical marijuana in Washington state.
- Hodgson said WSLCB had been meeting “every two weeks” with the DOH and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) during the time leading up to Molecular Labs’ decision to stop servicing I-502 clients.
- On January 24th, the DOH filed emergency rules “to temporarily suspend the heavy metal [testing] requirement under chapter 246-70 WAC and to require products sold under this suspension to be labeled ‘Not tested for heavy metals’ for consumer awareness.”
- Hodgson said she is “getting weekly updates” from Medicine Creek Analytics and Trace Analytics “on where they are in putting together a heavy metals program.” Medicine Creek projected readiness by the end of February while Trace expected to be online in March. Hodgson indicated the DOH rule suspension would be rescinded as soon as a lab able to test for heavy metals was certified by WSLCB: “[The emergency rule] is intended to be a temporary measure only until we have a lab that is up and running again.”
- Hodgson reported she had drafted a Chemist II Lab Staff position to join the Marijuana Examiners team “to really bring some expertise in on that topic.” She anticipated the person filling that role would help WSLCB navigate the transition of lab accreditation responsibility to the Department of Ecology (DOE) in the coming years.
- Hodgson was also focused on expanding the roster of lab proficiency test providers beyond WSLCB’s only vendor, Emerald Scientific, to four providers.
- Board Member Russ Hauge asked for clarification about lab proficiency tests. Hodgson replied, “So proficiency tests are required in our rules, that the labs must successfully pass two rounds of proficiency tests [each calendar year]. It’s basically: we send in a sample, we already know the results, and it’s a validation that the lab’s methods actually get valid results.”
- Hauge asked, “Are these blind tests?” Hodgson replied, “They are not blind, which I would prefer. I think a randomized blind test is a stronger test.” She added, “The labs are required to pay for the proficiency test kit, so they know it’s coming because they know that’s the kit.” At Hauge’s prompting, the Board pressed Hodgson to develop a blind testing regimen.
- Finally, Hodgson shared an update on HB 2052, “Clarifying marijuana product testing by revising provisions concerning marijuana testing laboratory accreditation and establishing a cannabis science task force.”
- The House Commerce and Gaming Committee (COG) hosted a public hearing on February 18th for the bill. Hodgson reported “most if not all of the testimony was very positive and in support of the bill.”
- Hodgson expected some “technical fixes…are likely needed and additional detail.” She mentioned the absence of fiscal notes from DOE and WSDA, and a conflict between DOE’s timeline for implementation (2024) and bill sponsor and COG Chair Derek Stanford’s timeline (2022).
- Later in the day during COG’s public meeting on February 19th, COG members unanimously relayed the bill out of committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation – and without amendment.
- Board Member Russ Hauge shared an update on the upcoming meeting of the renewed WSLCB Tribal Advisory Council (audio – 4m).
- The Council will meet on April 24th at the Suquamish Tribe’s facilities in Kitsap County. The first meeting’s agenda will focus on cannabis.
- Public Records Bonus: the WSLCB’s Legislative Reports for the 2019 session.
- WSLCB Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson composes narrative summaries of agency legislative activity each Monday during session. Cannabis Observer requested and acquired this year’s current documents, which are linked below.
- Cannabis Observer intends to make recurring requests for these summaries throughout session. We’ll post subsequently acquired public records on our social channels, also linked below. We send a lot of information your way, and aim to keep your email signal high.