The Week Ahead
(March 23, 2020)

Public meetings for cannabis-related policymaking remained uncertain at the start of another week under the pall of COVID-19, but some agencies pushed ahead with telepresence.

Here’s a look at cannabis-related policymaking events on Cannabis Observer’s calendars in the week ahead.

Monday March 23rd

On Monday, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Traceability 2.0 Work Group had been scheduled to meet, but the meeting was cancelled as part of the agency’s response to COVID-19.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Traceability 2.0 Work Group is composed of industry stakeholders and agency staff vetting the next generation of cannabis supply chain transparency in Washington state.
  • On Tuesday March 12th, WSLCB Executive Assistant Amy Lyn Ribera sent an email to participants announcing: “In light of the measures state, local and national officials are asking us all to take to contain COVID 19, we are going to cancel the Mar 23 meeting.  We don’t know exactly when we will be able to reschedule, but you’ll see an email from me when we’re ready to get a meeting confirmed.”
  • The work group last met on February 24th to review a new WSLCB draft of a producer traceability workflow and discuss recommendations from a Harvest Subcommittee of producers and their representatives which documented aspects of producer harvest workflows which were made more difficult by traceability requirements. The subcommittee offered three major recommendations to the work group and WSLCB:
    • Do not require tagging and tracking individual plants
    • Do not require reporting harvest wet weights
    • Adopt a systems-based approach to validating producer workflows
  • Cannabis Observer founder Gregory Foster is a member of the work group and has sought the consent of all participants to record the meetings. He obtained the consent of work group members and the WSLCB to publish the two hour recording of the February 24th meeting, wherein the recommendations of the Harvest Subcommittee were deliberated at length.

Tuesday March 24th

On Tuesday at 10am PT, the weekly Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Board Caucus was scheduled to recur.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • At publication time, it was unclear if the Board’s regularly scheduled public meetings would proceed as usual allowing for physical presence, be shifted to remote-only telepresence meetings, or be cancelled. The Board’s meeting schedule noted last week’s meetings were “SUSPENDED,” a novel status which Cannabis Observer had not previously observed the agency to declare. On inquiry, Executive Assistant to the Board Dustin Dickson stated, “I didn’t mean to cause confusion by stating “suspended” rather than “cancelled” on the calendar. We are NOT suspending until further notice, we are just using this week to make some adjustments and accommodations for telework opportunities.
  • The Board was not alone among government agencies struggling to comply with Washington state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) in a time of coronavirus, and the Associated Press noted those governance challenges exist across the country. RCW 42.30.030 broadly states, “all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency” which introduces challenges for hosting remote-only public meetings as not all persons have access to information technology.
  • The Washington State Board of Health (SBOH) attempted to meet this requirement at their March 11th board meeting by providing an accessible physical location to accompany a remote-only meeting for the public to not only observe but participate via public comment. However, SBOH staff facilitated that physical space placing them at heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19. SBOH announced their intention to utilize this approach going forward, inviting the public to the Department of Health’s Tumwater facility in April.

Wednesday March 25th

On Wednesday at 1:30pm PT, the three-member Board and agency leadership were scheduled to convene their weekly WSLCB Executive Management Team (EMT) meeting.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • At publication time, it was unclear if the Board’s regularly scheduled public meetings would proceed as usual allowing for physical presence, be shifted to remote-only telepresence meetings, or be cancelled.

Thursday March 26th

On Thursday, the bi-weekly WSLCB Marijuana Traceability Project (MTP) Integrator Work Session was cancelled as part of the agency’s response to COVID-19.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • After requesting agenda items for the upcoming meeting on Friday March 23rd, WSLCB Systems Administrator Sydney Jensen followed up to announce: “Update, per [WSLCB CIO] Mary [Mueller] the next two integrator meetings will be cancelled. Therefore, the next scheduled meeting will be on 4/23/2020.”

On Thursday, the WSLCB Listen and Learn Forum for the True Party of Interest rulemaking project was “indefinitely postponed” as part of the agency’s response to COVID-19.

Friday March 27th

On Friday at 9am, the Department of Ecology (DOE) Cannabis Science Task Force (CSTF) Steering Committee hosts its scheduled meeting through existing webinar infrastructure utilized since the inception of the Committee.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • The Cannabis Science Task Force Steering Committee is the leadership committee affecting the transition of responsibility for cannabis testing lab accreditation from the WSLCB to the DOE. In the absence of federal guidance, the Committee is also helping bolster cannabis testing lab standards.
  • The Committee was established in 2019 by HB 2052 - “Clarifying marijuana product testing by revising provisions concerning marijuana testing laboratory accreditation and establishing a cannabis science task force.” The session law did not require the task force to conduct public meetings nor provide for a public comment period. With the encouragement of prospective members of the task force and Cannabis Observer, the Department opted to make the meetings of the leadership committee open to the public and provided for public comment both in person and remotely via webinar software.
    • By way of contrast, HB 2870 - “Allowing additional marijuana retail licenses for social equity purposesas passed by the legislature had an explicit provision in section 5(9) which states “A public comment period must be provided at every meeting of the task force.” Supplemental operating budget provisos establishing the so-called “marijuana odor task force” and WSDA pesticide work groups did not mandate transparency nor public comment.
  • The DOE also opted to enable remote participation by task force members as well as the public through a facilitated webinar interface provided for each meeting. The practice of inclusion of remote participants requires effort by all participants and is aided by the Department’s assignment of a dedicated staff resource to manage the webinar application. As well, openness and transparency require up-front costs, and the CSTF was funded generously when HB 2052 was passed in 2019.
    • On February 25th, the WSLCB Board retracted an earlier commitment to facilitate remote testimony at its board meetings due to cost and questions of value. Chair Jane Rushford felt that “this is bigger than we have capacity to do.” At publication time, four out of five of the Board’s public meetings remained unobservable outside of the agency’s Olympia headquarters. And the agency regularly encountered technical difficulties providing a Persicope feed at board meetings and recently switched from GoToWebinar to Zoom for webinar services.
  • Given the predictable vicissitudes of technological mediation, Cannabis Observer was physically present at and recorded all of the CSTF Steering Committee meetings with the consent of participants, with once exception noted below:
  • To facilitate access to documents associated with each meeting of the CSTF Steering Committee, the Department utilized the EZview platform to create a publicly accessible repository of meeting materials. EZview is an archival tool for the creation of “project dedicated websites for local governments and state agencies to [freely] plan, share, document and collaborate.” The platform was created by “a continuing partnership of the Washington State Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA), Association of Washington Cities (AWC), and Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC).”