WSDA - Webinar - Cannabis Programs
(April 25, 2024) - Summary

2024-04-25 - WSDA - Webinar - Cannabis Programs - Summary - Takeaways

Staff went over a reorganization at WSDA including hemp and cannabis programs; the transition of lab standards and accreditation authority; plus tips for hemp licensees.

Here are some observations from the Thursday April 25th Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) webinar on the agency’s cannabis and hemp programs.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • Cannabis Programs Manager Trecia Ehrlich described how a reorganization at WSDA was expected to impact regulation of cannabis and hemp (audio - 8m).
    • Ehrlich told attendees that WSDA had “been interacting with cannabis for a very long time,” citing the Pesticide Management Division doing “compliance testing for cannabis” out of the department’s Yakima laboratory.
      • Ehrlich recounted in 2014, “there was a hemp, industrial hemp research program” with “between nine and 14 members of it. It was very small because all you could do was research hemp.”
      • By 2018, “the federal Farm Bill legalized hemp manufacturing through a state agriculture program,” she noted. After starting off “with around 200-ish licensees,” Ehrlich said they reached “around 220 to 30, probably at the peak.” In this era, she said the hemp program “was a part of our Commodity Inspection Division,” where hemp seed and crops were “something that needed to get inspected based on federal laws.”
      • In 2023, “we only had about 47 [hemp] licensees down from 220,” and “we were kind of increasing our involvement in other cannabis activities,” including as “the lead agency to create a cannabis lab standard.” During the creation of Cannabis Lab Accreditation Standards Program (CLASP), WSDA staff ended up drafting request legislation to take on cannabis testing lab accreditation, she explained. The bill, HB 2151, was signed into law on March 13th, at which time it took immediate effect.
    • “Because hemp and cannabis are so similar,” Ehrlich commented, “and so many of the products interact…it made sense to house them all under one program, the Cannabis Programs.” As Cannabis Programs Manager, she oversaw both hemp regulation and CLASP, as well as “indirectly I oversee the budgetary components of all of the ways in which cannabis interacts with the USDA,” or US Department of Agriculture.
      • Ehrlich noted there were funds for both compliance testing at the Yakima lab, as well as “some funding that goes through our pesticide registration and compliance teams.” She worked with Kelly McLain, appointed as Assistant Director of the Agricultural Environmental Services (AES) Division “to make sure that the agency has what it needs for cannabis and that we're spending it appropriately.”
      • As of March, AES housed the cannabis and hemp work at WSDA, and Ehrlich understood that McLain—a longtime department legislative liaison on cannabis—would “continue to have cannabis and hemp in her policy portfolio.” Ehrlich noted AES housed the Pesticide Management Division, and officials there had worked with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) and Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) on regional pesticide contamination concerns in 2023.
    • “The fact that all of our scientists and experts on environmental issues and pesticide issues are going to be in one place” was something Ehrlich thought would “hopefully streamline your experience as stakeholders.” She clarified that “in approximately eight weeks” she would begin maternity leave. And while not certain how long she’d be out, Ehrlich emphasized that “I do want to communicate to folks” on policy concerns or ideas until then. “Kelly, of course will be here and will be taking over the policy component of my role in my absence,” she added.
  • Ehrlich then turned to cannabis laboratory accreditation and standards, leading to questions from attendees on the transition of authority and required cannabinoid testing.
    • Previous WSDA events dealing with cannabis testing included webinars on laboratory standards in June 2023, and on lab accreditation on March 14th and 27th. Department staff also hosted public hearings on lab quality standards in December 2023, and more recently on April 9th.
    • In the meeting, Ehlich commented on the project for laboratory standards, directing attendees to the WSDA rulemaking webpage for additional information and explaining that a CR-103 with expedited rules was adopted on April 17th. She said there were two rulemaking efforts at the department, in “[WAC] 16-309, we wrote the standard that cannabis labs will be held to,” and the “second set of rules is 16-310. That's the accreditation standard” (audio - 1m).
    • Along with these rulemaking projects, she commented there was also a policy statement to help with the transition period, giving lab staff “time so that they can get up to standard, it will also increase their costs in some arenas.” The statement outlined a six-month transition window to allow for labs to implement the new standards. “And the policy statement just basically tells you that there is a “delay in enforcement and implementation of 16-309,” requiring labs to “be up to date with 16-309 by December 31 of 2024.” Ehrlich relayed how labs would also have to “submit their methods to us. So you can either use a pre-approved method that has been approved by WSDA, and can be found on our CLASP website…or you can submit your own method approval [and] we now have our method approval form available” online (audio - 3m).
      • Verda Bio CEO Jessica Tonani inquired about what cannabinoids they were required to test for, specifically curious about delta-8-THC. CLASP Coordinator Dave Michaelsen noted that substance wasn’t required for testing by WSLCB, and WSDA “does not choose which analytes are to be tested - that will come from the LCB rules.” Tonani noted delta-8-THC testing was listed as a method in the “cannabinoid concentration analysis document.” WSLCB Chemist Nicholas Poolman suggested there “should be asterisks next to delta-8 and CBN [cannabinol]. They're in the method for quality control and quality assurance reasons, [but were] not required to be reported.” (audio - 3m).
    • Ehrlich also discussed the policy statement and what “things that are different…about our accreditation rule relative to the Department of Ecology rule” (audio - 5m).
      • She stated that fees were a top concern for labs, and the WSDA fees would stay close to existing costs levied by WSLCB accreditation vendor RJ Lee. Since WSDA was a state agency, lab representatives wouldn’t be charged to meet with staff directly, a difference from the costs imposed under RJ Lee. Ehrlich intended for this line of communication to create “more opportunities for education and…to work with labs to move them into compliance.” 
      • The method approval process was another difference between DOE and the WSDA approach, since DOE hadn’t allowed outside methods to be proposed, she observed. WSDA staff “decided that we will not accredit labs to matrices right away. It's not something that we're against in any way, it was more that we weren't sure that [the] three matrix types provided were the best way to divide them.” She anticipated more events on the subject for interested parties, “starting probably in January” of 2025. Ehrlich remarked this meant “we're not going to a credit to matrix….Ecology said that you had to do PTs [proficiency testing] in-matrix, like folks needed to use…high THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] cannabis flower for their proficiency testing.” But since these matrices weren’t available in Washington state, “we are allowing hemp to be used for proficiency testing until cannabis is available.”
      • One other new part of the WSDA rules “was interlaboratory comparison studies…so that multiple laboratories could test the same sample.” Ehrlich said it wouldn’t happen right away, “but we have already started conversations with different PT providers about how we can make that happen.”
    • Ehrlich reported that RJ Lee would have their contract extended by WSDA in order to continue to accredit cannabis labs until the end of 2024 under the existing rules. She emphasized that WSDA staff would be participating in all lab audits through that timeframe. She encouraged labs to reach out to WSDA staff as soon as possible “if you are needing help with coming into compliance” (audio - 4m).
  • After Ehrlich outlined the history and status of the hemp program, a WSDA Microbiologist assigned to the program introduced herself, and attendees raised several questions.
    • Prior WSDA events involving the hemp program included a March 2022 webinar on hemp production, and a program overview during a September 2022 public hearing. Ehrlich discussed the decline in hemp licenses with legislators in December 2023 following passage of SB 5367 as the bill broadened the definition of ‘cannabis products’ and outlawed hemp consumable sales outside of licensed cannabis retailers.
    • During the webinar, Ehrlich said all 2023 hemp licenses would expire by April 30th, and anyone who had not already sent in the required paperwork and fees could expect their license to “lapse” before it was approved by department personnel. But looking at hemp licensure more broadly, “I think we're going to be pretty similar to last year…40 to 50 licensees, max,” she observed (audio - 6m).
      • “For those of you [with] questions about the impacts of 5367, I don't have a ton of information for you. I can tell you this,” Ehrlich established, “5367 didn't actually change so much for hemp in Washington state in the sense that hemp infused edibles like CBD [cannabidiol] edibles have never been legal in this state.” She acknowledged CBD consumables had been “extremely present, but they are not legal,” and that SB 5367 maintained this. However, one “product that did have a legal marketplace prior to 5367 and no longer has a legal marketplace is hemp smokeables…that was something that we did have some licensees producing in the past, that is now considered consumable.”
      • Ehrlich said department officials would convene another “webinar on hemp harvests…probably in early June.” She remarked that hemp licensees needed to “reach out to us 45 days prior to your anticipated harvest date to schedule an inspection. It is mandatory, you cannot take your own sample and send it to a lab.” She stated this was because federal agencies required WSDA to “take that sample within 30 days of your anticipated harvest date.” Although WSDA received “lots of calls every year from people who are like, ‘I'm 30 days out from harvest’ or, ‘I’m 20 days out from harvest,’ or ‘I'm five days out from harvest. I need you to come now.’ We can't do that.” Ehrlich insisted 45 days was the minimum amount of time needed to schedule a visit by staff and then submit hemp samples for testing.
      • “We are still seeing about 25% of inspections as hot inspections,” she told the group, “some people end up not producing, but about 60% of licensees are harvesting material for sale…about 25% of those inspections end up with hot hemp.” Moreover, another “ten to 15% of people who are getting point 0.28, 0.29[% THC], where like if we were just a day or two later, who knows if you would be making that 0.3% or not.”
    • Ehrlich introduced Microbiologist Lauren Christiansen, referring to her history at Medicine Creek Analytics, who “helped us write our laboratory standard and she will be a part of our accreditation team.” Additionally, “this summer, she will also be overseeing our hemp program” when Ehrlich was on leave. She expected Christiansen would gain “a really unique perspective to add to the industry…and she is also finishing her master's degree in a matter of weeks” (audio - 3m).
      • Christiansen talked about joining WSDA in February 2023 as she worked towards a Masters in Public Administration at The Evergreen State College, which she expected to complete just before taking on the post of acting Hemp Manager for WSDA. “I'm really excited for the opportunity and I'm also very excited to see this industry from a different dimension,” she added.
    • Industrial Hemp Processing of America CEO Jared Mayzak asked in chat: "Does the WSDA maintain a seedbank farmers can use that includes strains that meet the requirement?" (audio - 2m)
      • Ehrlich responded that they didn’t, arguing that "we have a very cannabinoid-centric culture,” whereas the Kentucky hemp program incorporated a seed and transplant provider’s list. She reasoned that in Kentucky, “where almost everyone is going for grain, they have a couple, they have some strains that are tried and true and they're mostly grain and fiber strains.” Having seen “too much good stuff go bad,” Ehrlich didn’t want to “steer people in the wrong direction.” She encouraged people to look for hemp seed banks, but acknowledged that “you are going to, probably, be getting grain and fiber strains from those lists,” rather than cultivars with high percentages of CBD.
      • Trade groups such as the Kentucky Hemp Association and Kentucky Hempsters have advocated for regulations around hemp edibles, with a July 2023 article suggesting CBD consumables need to be allowed for hemp to reach its full market potential. At time of publication, federal authorities haven’t authorized CBD consumables, but have permitted states to set their own policies.
    • Mayzak posted another question in the chat asking “why so many farmers have stopped applying for industrial hemp licenses and what is the department doing to solve those issues and educate farmers on the benefits not only for the farmers but for WA state as well?" (audio - 6m)
      • Ehrlich answered there was a "general confusion" over what was allowed that diminished people’s interest, and that the state market had become “oversaturated.” She also said the hemp manufacturing and processing industries were unregulated, which left some licensees unsure "where to send their plant next" since there was already a legal market for cannabis consumables. Ehrlich relayed that WSDA had secured a budget proviso to contract with a consulting firm to look into “utilizing hemp for building materials and other sustainable reasons,” of which a “small number of farmers” in the state had voiced an interest. She expected the study to be helmed by Greene Economics, formally starting on July 1st, and may take about a year.
      • Referring to the federal farm bill, and hope of passing revisions “next September,” Ehrlich said until then WSDA was in a “delay mode” with federal reporting requirements creating costs for the department. “ I think part of why we're seeing a reduction in licensing is because it's expensive to have a hemp license, you have to pay for licensing and you have to pay for testing.” She felt this cost was “going to take some farmers away from the project.”
    • Mayzak then asked about hemp processing plants in Washington. Ehrlich replied there was a list of voluntarily registered hemp processors through WSDA, but there was no complete list. She noted the situation was complicated because there was no "formal regulatory authority over hemp processing" (audio - 1m).
  • Ehrlich brought the meeting to a close with a call for public input and a reminder that laboratories had a deadline for compliance with new testing protocols (audio - 1m).
    • “Feel free to follow up with me again, if you have policy ideas, seedlings, questions.” Ehrlich said she could be reached through
    • She added, “If you are a laboratory who is having questions…please reach out to us,” since “we are here to work with you and help you.” Ehrlich indicated that testing labs had “about seven months” until compliance with the new standards would be mandatory, and WSDA officials would help as much as possible in the process.

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