The three-member board of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) and agency leadership meet weekly as the Executive Management Team to facilitate coordination between the appointed Board and staff.
WSLCB's new "Policy Analysis Framework" brings public health, prevention, and public safety "front and center" in agency decision-making.
Here are some observations from the December 19th WSLCB Executive Management Team meeting.
My top 3 takeaways:
- WSLCB leadership discussed a new “Policy Analysis Framework” intended to strengthen the agency’s legislative and regulatory decision-making processes.
- Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson introduced the framework indicating it evolved from an “Appropriate Access Project” begun earlier in the year (audio – 7m).
- Thompson explained: “We launched when discussion of individual bills last session kind of led to the larger question of whether we have a sense of how to think about what level of access, what magnitude of privilege, and what extent, reach, and scope of regulated substances in our state makes sense or how we should think about, where sort of warning bells should go off. Where concerns should be raised about how extensive privileges are for licensees.”
- The Policy Analysis Framework is currently in a “phase 1, pilot effort” to help consistently structure and document the agency’s internal deliberations on legislative and regulatory activity.
- The authors of the framework also attempted to adjust the focus of the agency’s policy analysis; Thompson: “The newest kind of major element here is the idea of putting before us, front and center, on a cheat sheet, a reminder about public health and safety.”
- Thompson offered the example of a request to permit beer sales at the Puyallup Fair, saying that as compared to the agency’s reflexive enforcement considerations, “We’d be less inclined to think what message are we sending to young people at the fair to see, you know, more of a normative process where drinking is just part of everything you do?”
- Research Consultant Trecia Ehrlich was introduced as the lead researcher on the project, building on work carried out in 2008-2009 on a Key Impacts Evaluation Tool (audio – 2m).
- Ehrlich indicated the original focus on “appropriate access” led to confusion among stakeholders: ‘So, instead of solely focusing on access, or what is appropriate and naming it as such, we’ve moved this over into just a “Policy Analysis Framework” with the general goal of utilizing a public health lens when we’re doing our policy analysis.’
- Director Rick Garza was quick to prioritize public safety in addition to public health and prevention, and considers the framework “more inclusive than exclusive.”
- Thompson introduced outgoing Public Health Education Liaison Mary Segawa as the principal author of the Policy Analysis Framework (audio – 14m).
- The framework groups criteria into four areas:
- Access Availability and Pricing,
- Agency Impact and Alignment,
- External Impact (on other state agencies, tribes, or other efforts).
- Segawa said impact analysis is currently conducted “after the fact” suggesting the agency should research and predict policy impacts before policies are in effect.
- Segawa stressed the framework should be a tool for discussion, not a “check the box, give it a 1 to 10 rating” form. She hoped it will encourage staff to be proactive in reaching out to other agencies for input.
- Member Hauge said the framework had the potential to “establish language of communication” between WSLCB divisions to talk about impacts. Agency leadership agreed the framework could help improve transparency into decision making for staff, impacted agencies, and lawmakers.
- Ehrlich said the agency is evaluating how to use the framework for “historical awareness” to ensure the agency is addressing original concerns.
- Wrapping things up, Thompson said staff would start using the framework during the upcoming legislative session (audio – 13m).
- Enforcement Chief Justin Nordhorn voiced concerns about additional workload, but Ehrlich countered new requirements such as public health impact analysis may be carried out by other staffers.
- Thompson commended lobbyist Seth Dawson of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention (WASAVP), saying Dawson, “[informed] a lot of our early thinking and how to approach analysis,” noting WASAVP, “has done a lot of good work and the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee is interested in hearing more about their work.” Find out more about WASAVP’s influence on WSLCB cannabis policy.
- Chief Justin Nordhorn discussed recent Enforcement activity and analysis (audio – 7m).
- At the end of October, the Board approved a CR-101 opening rulemaking “to modify traceability penalty guidelines establishing penalties for varying thresholds of non-compliance.“
- Member Hauge asked about licensee reactions to increased enforcement focus on “failure to use/utilize traceability” violations. Nordhorn downplayed licensee reactions while touting improved consistency in seizure of untraceable products.
- Nordhorn mentioned a recent analysis of enforcement data which found action rates between alcohol and cannabis licensees were statistically similar on most issues. Cannabis licensees received more traceability, packaging and labeling, and advertising violations.
- The most notable type of complaint Enforcement received from licensees concerns consistency of enforcement, but Nordhorn indicated those complaints are almost always too vague to be actionable.
- Nordhorn said he believes most licensees want to be in compliance and have Enforcement target bad operators.
- Brian Smith, WSLCB Director of Communications, discussed the previous day’s webinar on “Marijuana Infused Edibles (MIE) Packaging and Labeling Rules” (audio – 2m).
- Smith said Tuesday’s webinar was viewed by 223 people.
- The agency was still responding to questions and developing FAQs for the website.
- The webinar recording and additional materials will be available by Friday December 21st.
- See Cannabis Observer’s Marijuana Infused Edibles Update for earlier access to an audio recording of the webinar, the presentation as reconstructed from screen captures, WSLCB documents, and rich detail about the WSLCB’s latest interim policies and upcoming new rules.