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.
The team reviewed the first interagency meeting of the WSLCB’s Cannabis 2.0 project and assessed delays updating Washington State’s version of MJ Freeway’s Leaf Data Systems.
Here are some observations from the Wednesday June 12th WSLCB Executive Management Team public meeting.
My top 3 takeaways:
- Staff shared their observations about the first interagency meeting of the WSLCB’s Cannabis 2.0 project (audio – 19m).
- The Cannabis 2.0 project (C2.0) was a key subject of the previous day’s Board Caucus. Board Chair Jane Rushford reiterated the gathering’s success, saying it “galvanized an interagency commitment” to the topic of cannabis. She then invited thoughts from Becky Smith, Director of Licensing, Chris Thompson, Director of Legislative Relations, and Board Executive Assistant Dustin Dickson who attended with her.
- Smith found the update on other agency activity or interests around cannabis refreshing. She looked forward to collaboration and shifting the status quo of “knowing that there’s meetings that they want folks to attend and kind of wondering why people from LCB aren’t showing up – when we’re not invited.” The event reminded her of the early days after I-502 passed when there was more engagement across state entities. Rushford later mentioned the agency would be represented at the next Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) meeting in October.
- Smith advocated for more focus on small businesses as part of C2.0 and liked “observations” from the Department of Labor and Industries (LNI) which indicated the agency was “paying attention to the workers” in the industry. She suggested enforcement staff coordinate with LNI on safety issues.
- Steve Johnson, Deputy Chief of Enforcement, confirmed he was working with Smith and officers “that routinely respond to producer/processor locations to ensure some health/safety issues.” He said those officers were participating in health evaluations for LNI to help that agency understand potential occupational risks “more closely related to pesticide exposure than anything else.” Johnson noted Enforcement was procuring equipment to detect gas leaks such as butane. Though the odds were low, he didn’t want to put officers in a “risk position” and was working with WSLCB’s Human Resources office and the employee union to “get the pieces in place.” Rushford praised this “outward facing emphasis” of their effort.
- Thompson found it fascinating “how many tentacles this field has within LNI” and lauded the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) for hiring a coordinator to “do internally what [WSLCB] is doing externally” with C2.0 by keeping various efforts at WSDA “aware of one another.” He’d spoken with his “counterpart” at Ag about how far that agency has progressed to “work collaboratively in this space,” particularly regarding their role in the Cannabis Science Task Force passed into law with House Bill 2052. Thompson summarized it as “a sea change” at WSDA.
- See Cannabis Observer Coverage of HB 2052’s passage.
- Thompson went on to say he’d received interest from WTSC, Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), “and some others” to work together on cannabis legislation. WSLCB hadn’t been included in past cannabis meetings for some of the groups, but he sounded optimistic they would moving forward. Thompson said he’d begun networking with people from the various agencies to talk about issues that concern or impact them, calling out DFI’s interest in “non-resident ownership” and the Department of Health’s (DOH) Assistant Secretary for Health Systems Quality Assurance, Kristin Peterson, as particularly supportive.
- Smith called for a directory across agencies of cannabis experts or leaders to contact, “so they’re not contacting one person all the time.” Dickson was said to have a “framework” for compiling that list from C2.0 participants. Rushford promised a “resource sheet” and meeting notes would become available next week.
- Megan Duffy, WSLCB Deputy Director, had kind words for WSDA “stepping up and owning what is within their authority and responsibility”—particularly on hemp—in “a way they hadn’t in the past.” She felt DFI was eager to interview stakeholders to learn their challenges around banking. Board Member Ollie Garrett explained that she’d heard similar requests for perspective on banking from Washington’s Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE).
- Duffy indicated that Director Rick Garza proposed a “summit” of industry stakeholders and C2.0 participating agencies for a “collective conversation.” Rushford said she was advocating for cannabis legislative teams at different agencies and intended to work to connect those teams with cannabis stakeholders.
- Thompson mentioned “immediate openness” towards C2.0 from a legislative aide, and he intended to brief them on it in the future.
- Deputy Director Megan Duffy explained there would be additional delay rolling out the next release of Washington State’s version of MJ Freeway’s Leaf Data Systems, in part at request of unnamed third-party software integrators (audio – 9m).
- The state’s traceability system remains a contentious topic and recently required Board action.
- See Cannabis Observer’s coverage of the Traceability Advisory Committee meeting in May.
- Duffy began by saying there was “a big release” for the system “sitting out there.” She said certain third-party software providers expressed “trepidation” about the release, albeit after the agency and its vendor called off the planned June 6th launch. Since WSLCB wanted those private sector companies to be “as ready as they can be,” the agency decided to “delay that release for a short time period” so integrators can “continue on” preparing for the release and cause “as little disruption as possible.”
- Acknowledging concerns about a temporary shutdown of the traceability network mentioned during public comment at that morning’s Board Meeting, Duffy said a “24 hour period for data migration” was necessary to “get the code up.” However, she noted “potential alternatives” had been brought up by other sources.
- As the agency considers a 24-hour shutdown, the WSLCB is seeking licensee feedback about anticipated impacts (or the lack thereof) in the event of interruption of business across a Sunday and possibly including the following early Monday morning. Duffy can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and WSLCB CIO Mary Mueller at email@example.com.
- Board Member Russ Hauge was grateful for Duffy’s candor and mentioned the difficult history WSLCB had “just getting somebody we hope was competent to even want to do the work.” He expressed creeping pessimism about the vendor, MJ Freeway: “Are we at the point where we’re thinking this may not work?” Duffy laughed while calling it “a big question” and added that she believed it was better to receive concerns before a potential release rather than after.
- Duffy suggested the “functionality of this release will be telling.” She highlighted “different expectations” from various participants about what traceability “is, what it should be, what it should be doing.” She candidly thought WSLCB should have handled the Request for Proposals (RFP) better, but now they “had to work” on it. Hauge felt similarly.
- Duffy said Chief Information Officer Mary Mueller contacted each integrator by phone to gather perspective on their readiness. She also credited Marijuana Traceability Project (MTP) Advisory Committee member and Cannabis Observer founder Gregory Foster as being “there every month, and providing good perspective and information.”
- Thompson mentioned that some legislative fiscal committee, policy committee, and caucus staff were interested in tracking traceability and the systems modernization project (SMP) so he had scheduled a meeting for July 18th.
- The state’s traceability system remains a contentious topic and recently required Board action.
- Agency leadership engaged in a free flowing talk about the purpose of Executive Management Team meetings (audio – 20m).
- Rushford initiated conversation about the format of the Executive Management Team (EMT) meetings, a venue for formal work sessions over the past several months including the March 20th, April 3rd, and May 1st meetings. The scope of the conversation grew from there.
- The chair started by asking for help “with how we engage here at EMT” around each division’s priorities, how to have EMTs that are “more meaningful,” and content suggestions for the future. Rushford felt the group had yet to find a “sweet spot” for “robust” meetings where staff “walk away with a united understanding of how we can work together.”
- Duffy, a relatively recent hire at the agency, wanted to know the original objectives of EMT meetings and how different format “iterations” had impacted outcomes.
- Rushford replied that EMT meetings provided “an opportunity to the Board to meet with all of [agency leadership].” The three-member Board can only meet individually with staff – otherwise they form a quorum which necessitates a public meeting under Washington law.
- Garrett said she looked to hear “innovative ideas” for change or new methods from staff, as well as stay informed of major division activities so that the Board and agency weren’t “siloed” as affiliated, but separate entities.
- Hauge said EMT meetings should include Board attention on “problem areas that are emerging” for appropriate public messaging or action. Reflecting on his past experience in local government, Hauge commented, “There is a natural tendency, in an open meeting like this, to shy away from the controversial topics, but this is the opportunity we have to discuss them.”
- Rushford elaborated on the current “collaborative progress report” format. The meeting cadence had been changed to every other week, which she felt was “not entirely comfortable for us,” especially when EMT meetings were cancelled. “We don’t need to meet to meet,” Rushford conceded, “but how do we then enrich our engagement so that we’re really cross-pollinating and enriching everyone’s experience?”
- Duffy wanted to be sure staff was doing work the Board needed, and to understand what board members “need to get from us in order to do the work.” Duffy suggested that required more direction from the Board as they weren’t available full time. Rushford responded, “we need to hear from you what you think we need to know” in addition to the Board’s priorities. She admitted they’ve yet to identify a format that worked for both Board and staff, and observed “we have experienced a lot of gaps between discussions here and the next update or result.”
- Hauge warned, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Hauge felt complaints about the agency typically targeted the Board itself and members get “called out” for matters beyond their control. “If we don’t hear about it until it’s already gotten heated,” he said, “our opportunities are much more limited.”
- Garrett felt there was a public perception that the Board was “omniscient” and knew everything that was going on at the agency. Technically, Hauge allowed, “that is legally right. Shame on us for forgetting that.”
- Thompson chimed in that he knew the Board had legislative concerns and he would consider methods to stay connected beyond the weekly legislative report his office produced. Garrett later commented that Thompson’s reports had been the most informative legislative updates she’d seen since joining the board. Hauge felt the Board was “at sea” during legislative sessions, and was more concerned with agency activity or claims than bill updates.
- Hauge again mentioned the Seattle Hempfest lawsuit leveled against the agency which he’d brought up earlier in the week. Hauge knew the agency had been in talks with Hempfest regarding the advertising issue since the end of last year – but hadn’t known friction had escalated to the point of a lawsuit.