WSLCB - Special Board Meeting
(April 6, 2020) - Summary

The Board considered and approved emergency rulemaking claiming a specific authority to suspend licenses to enforce Governor’s Proclamations.

Here are some observations from the Monday April 6th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Special Board Meeting.

My top takeaway:

  • The Board considered and approved emergency rulemaking claiming a specific authority to suspend licenses to enforce Governor’s Proclamations. Though taken in relation to the COVID situation and oriented towards alcohol, tobacco, and vapor licensees, the emergency powers could be applied against cannabis licensees were they subsequently deemed out of compliance.
    • The Special Board Meeting was set up identically to the agency’s March 27th meeting in accordance with Governor Jay Inslee’s temporary action suspending “certain statutory requirements in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA)” until April 22nd due to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (audio - 1m).
      • The action prohibits agencies from hosting public meetings unless “the meeting is not conducted in-person and instead provides an option(s) for the public to attend the proceedings through, at minimum, telephonic access.” While the OPMA is constrained, state agencies must limit policymaking to actions which “are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency.”
      • Executive Assistant Dustin Dickson confirmed that Policy and Rules Manager Kathy Hoffman, Board Chair Jane Rushford, and Board Member Ollie Garrett were on the call while others listened in. Dickson later noted that Board Member Russ Hauge had been “on the line; I was not able to unmute him.”
    • Hoffman reviewed the supporting materials describing the emergency rule, saying it would assist Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order signed on March 23rd and “extended to May 4th.” The emergency rule would add a new section to WAC 314-12 allowing for “summary suspension” following a “preminimary staff investigation” by WSLCB which found licensees violated “any Governor's Proclamation issued as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.” The change would also create a “framework and process” for license holders to appeal their suspension as WAC 314-12-275. The Board approved the emergency rule without questions and Hoffman promised to file the rule with the Office of the Code Reviser (OCR) later that day (audio - 4m).
      • Hoffman asked those wishing to report alleged violations to contact WSLCB’s Enforcement division directly. The State of Washington’s central coronavirus website also provided a form for the public to report “suspected business violations,” separate from a complaint system for the eviction moratorium, and indicated allegations would “be forwarded to the appropriate agency to review the violation.”
      • While focused on alcohol, tobacco, and vapor product licensees, Cannabis Observer’s April 6th Week Ahead alleged a potential for the emergency rules to be applied to cannabis businesses. Although WSLCB “explicitly excluded cannabis licensees from their descriptions of the targets of the emergency rulemaking in recognition of their current essential status, the actual emergency rule language makes no such distinction. Cannabis Observer’s interpretation of the rule language indicates that, once adopted, these emergency rules could be applied to any cannabis license type if there were a change in their essential designation.”
      • The emergency rules may be rescinded, modified, or expanded beyond a 120-day limit outlined in RCW 34.05.350(2) which states such rules “may not remain in effect for longer than one hundred twenty days after filing. Identical or substantially similar emergency rules may not be adopted in sequence unless conditions have changed or the agency has filed notice of its intent to adopt the rule as a permanent rule, and is actively undertaking the appropriate procedures to adopt the rule as a permanent rule.”
    • Next, Hoffman asked for approval of a separate Delegation of Authority for Summary Suspension “of any license under Title 314 WAC” to enable the Enforcement division to “serve an order of summary suspension when a licensee has violated any Governor’s Proclamation.The Board delegated their newly claimed authority to the Enforcement division (audio - 2m).
    • Rushford thanked Hoffman and Dickson for their efforts, telling those listening that “we look forward to the days when this is over and we can see each other” (audio - <1m).

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