The Week Ahead
(June 15, 2020)

The technological leap into remote meetings required by the State’s response to the pandemic continued to challenge the WSLCB’s commitment to transparency.

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

Tuesday June 16th

On Tuesday at 10am PT, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) planned to host a webinar on the International Trade Data System.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • This webinar should provide an introduction to the logistical and informational aspects of international trade at the U.S. border, with an emphasis on specialty crop imports. Federally, hemp is often regarded as matching the attributes of a specialty crop, but legally is considered ineligible for that designation at this time.
  • The announcement for the webinar indicates it will include “...the history of the government-wide International Trade Data System (ITDS) initiative and the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) into which importers will be required to load documents necessary for bringing products into the United States beginning Sept. 2, 2020. Topics will also cover the connectivity between AMS’ Compliance Enforcement Management System, which enables AMS to schedule grading and certification services and track the handling and disposition of loads for compliance purposes and CBP’s ACE.”
  • As cannabis becomes more destigmatized and welcomed as a commodity for international trade, Washington state is uniquely positioned to become a net exporter of quality cannabis products as well as import fine cannabis products from around the world. The decimation of revenues and budgets attending State responses to COVID-19 may prompt more enthusiastic and more timely evaluation of the potential of cannabis as a domestically and internationally tradable product. Here at Cannabis Observer, we’re eager to learn more about the mechanisms by which international trade is affected - and how those systems may or may not interface with existing seed-to-sale systems for cannabis traceability.

On Tuesday at 11:30am PT, the weekly Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Board Caucus was scheduled to recur.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • The Board met virtually this past Tuesday June 9th. At publication time, the last time the Board physically met in-person was Tuesday March 10th.
  • During the Tuesday June 9th caucus, the Board and agency leadership discussed the WSLCB’s emerging plans for implementation of HB 2870’s marijuana social equity task force and program.
    • Director Rick Garza noted that implicit bias training provided to “all of our employees” in 2019 by Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting had been “well received by the agency.” Based on this experience, WSLCB re-hired Hollins to help “facilitate [community] discussions” before and during the task force’s work. He said that Hollins would be arranging “five or six meetings statewide” as permitted by the phased reopening of public areas in Washington due to COVID-19.
    • The task force was mandated by law to have its first meeting by July 1st. However, logistical challenges and the lack of designated members would make the deadline difficult to meet.
  • On Friday June 12th, the Office of the Governor notified the members of the Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee (WA Senate LBRC) and the House Commerce and Gaming Committee (WA House COG) that the Executive branch would not be able to meet HB 2870’s deadlines encoded in statute by the Legislature.
    • Senior Policy Advisor Sheri Sawyer wrote, “I wanted to let you know that we are approaching a statutory deadline that we will be unable to meet. For some background, section 5 of E2SHB 2870 establishes a legislative task force on social equity in marijuana. Its purpose is to make recommendations to the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) on, among other topics, establishing a social equity program for the issuance and reissuance of existing marijuana retail licenses. The task force must submit a report, or multiple reports, on recommended policies that will facilitate the development of the program. The final recommendations must be submitted to the Governor, the LCB, and the Legislature by December 1, 2020. The task force is to hold its first meeting by July 1, 2020. Staff support for the task force, including arranging the first meeting of the task force and assisting the chair of the task force in arranging subsequent meetings, must be provided by the Health Equity Council of the Governor's Interagency Council on Health Disparities.”
    • She continued, “The Council has a staff of one and since mid-March, she has been assigned full-time to the Joint Information Center (JIC) for the state’s COVID-19 response. The JIC is part of the Washington State Emergency Operations Center, operated out of Camp Murray, which has a unified command including the state Department of Health, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and the Washington Emergency Management Division. Her commitment to the JIC is through June. Therefore convening the task force by July 1, is not feasible. Council staff anticipates being able to hold the first meeting of the task force in October 2020. This unfortunately will also push out the date to deliver the final recommendations to the Legislature.”
    • Sawyer concluded her message by highlighting the efforts of the WSLCB to convene listening sessions around the state: “I also want to make you aware of some additional efforts the LCB is undertaking. The LCB contemplated these efforts prior to the passage of the legislation with the acknowledgment that these efforts are needed notwithstanding legislation. Specifically, the LCB has contracted with Cultures Connecting, a Seattle-area firm headed by Caprice Hollins, to conduct community outreach and engagement efforts.  An accomplished expert in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, Caprice Hollins has previously worked with LCB providing staff training focused on implicit bias.  The work Cultures Connecting will do on behalf of the LCB is to organize and facilitate a series of up to five half-day meetings around the state to hear from communities of color.  The meetings are intended to learn more, especially from communities of color, about perceptions of the LCB, concerns people of color have about agency operations (for both alcohol and cannabis), and ways to improve the agency’s efforts surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. Although not intended to in any way substitute for the work of the task force, we think these efforts might help bridge a gap until the task force can meet.”

Wednesday June 17th

The weekly WSLCB Executive Management Team (EMT) meeting was cancelled.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • The last 18 regularly scheduled EMT meetings have been cancelled. And, unusually, the Board has projected cancellation of its EMT meetings through the end of June. The EMT last convened on Wednesday February 12th.
  • It’s Cannabis Observer’s understanding that WSLCB leadership feels that the EMT meetings are unnecessary at this time, and the irregular updates provided to the full Board by agency staff at caucus meetings are sufficient for the agency’s purposes.  Purportedly, the agency will reconsider that position once in-person meetings resume at some future time both undeclared and uncertain.
  • Since the Board’s last in-person meeting more than three months ago on March 10th, the Board has convened in caucus or special board caucus 6 times. Director Rick Garza and/or Deputy Director Megan Duffy have shown up to speak at 3 of those meetings on April 14th, April 28th, and June 9th.
  • EMT meetings are 40% of all regularly scheduled WSLCB public meetings by quantity. EMT meetings are the only context in which agency staff consistently interact with all three appointed WSLCB board members to communicate and coordinate the agency’s activities.

Thursday June 18th

On Thursday at 10am PT, the bi-weekly WSLCB Marijuana Traceability Project (MTP) Integrator Work Session was scheduled to recur.

  • [ Event Details ]
  • The Integrator Work Session was last convened on Thursday June 4th.
  • Uncharacteristically, Cannabis Observer did not directly observe the Thursday June 4th Integrator Work Session, operating on an assumption that the WSLCB would record the meeting and subsequently make that information available as is their established practice. Unfortunately, agency staff encountered “technical difficulties” operating the Cisco WebEx webinar software which prevented them from recording the meeting. Cannabis Observer subsequently followed up with meeting participants to glean the subjects covered which included the usual lingering issues with MJ Freeway’s Leaf Data Systems. There is no evidence to indicate that the WSLCB intentionally broke with its established practice of recording meetings in this circumstance.
  • Technical difficulties happen quite frequently in technocultures - especially ones thrust into rapid digital transformation out of necessity by the State’s actions to establish physical distance between its citizens. Technical difficulties are the reason we replicate and backup important data. It’s also true that many if not most public entities do not have the resources, expertise, and wherewithal to consistently create quality digital representations of their proceedings to better inform their stakeholders and the public.
  • One of the primary motivations for the formation of Cannabis Observer is to create uncharacteristic value by having independent witnesses observe and testify about the proceedings of public entities. We’ve structured Cannabis Observer to complement the efforts of public entities and create better information for all parties - including appointed officials, elected officials, and agency staff. We approach our work with compassion for the people tasked with carrying out the public’s charge and cognizant of the pressures for positive change which can accompany increased transparency. We remain committed to dispelling ignorance to elevate the conversation between the public and its institutions, to create better outcomes for all.