WSLCB - Executive Management Team
(June 12, 2024) - Summary

2024-06-12 - WSLCB - Executive Management Team - Summary - Takeaways

Legislative ideas for 2025, lengthy cannabis label approvals, updates from CANNRA, traceability, and a reminder about canopy were all brought up by staff or board members.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday June 12th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Executive Management Team (EMT) public meeting.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • Director of Legislative Relations Marc Webster reflected on cannabis bill ideas being contemplated ahead of the 2025 legislative session.
    • Considering that it was “definitely time to start thinking about our legislative agenda for 2025,” Webster mentioned having gotten “several ideas” from staff in the Licensing as well as Education and Enforcement divisions on “what I would basically call RCW clean up, this is not sweeping policy changes, but removing archaic license types.” Aside from ensuring Mandatory Alcohol Service Training (MAST) “permitting rules apply across the board and we're not missing any license types for that,” he said there wasn’t a final decision on what legislative topics would be covered in a request bill, “but just know that that's in the works” (audio - 2m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
    • Webster acknowledged having heard “from members and some stakeholders that they think that certain statutory fixes to social equity could be needed.” He predicted board members would start “getting requests to have some sort of a trailer bill, some sort of a cleanup effort of one kind or another,” though he hadn’t seen any drafts (audio - <1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
    • Other topics Webster felt were likely to come up included “cannabis signage…we had a big discussion about that…last year,” as well as distributions from the dedicated cannabis account (DCA) which “was last changed in 2022. I wouldn't be surprised if people took a look at that again.” He then added, “we'll try to get some discussions going with stakeholders” in order to “get out ahead of some of those perennial issues” (audio - 1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
    • Board Member Ollie Garrett stated, “I'm hearing a lot of talk on the cannabis lounges,” however, “part of the problem is to do with air control.” When she’d spoken with Research Program staff a day earlier, “I asked the question, how is it that cities like Tacoma can have a cigar lounge, certain cities have cigar lounge, and that has to have been some of the same concern [around] air quality. But then some cities don't have it” (audio - 3m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • Licensing Director Becky Smith said the agency didn’t license cigar lounges and speculated, “they might be a private club that…allow cigars to be smoked.” Regardless, she indicated “the air quality would be a concern of ours.”
      • Webster added that he’d talked about the concept with Director Will Lukela “a couple of months ago” and felt “you might see some of those consumption lounges…on tribal land.” Webster knew there were cigar lounges on tribal land, and “I do wonder if it's, the one in Tacoma that you're speaking on, is on Puyallup reservation land.” Garrett responded that the lounge she was thinking of was called "Smokey Point.”
        • At time of publication, no cigar business in Tacoma was listed under the name of “Smokey Point,” although one was named Smokey Joe’s. Additionally, there is a cannabis licensee which has operated under the name Smokey Point Productions.
      • Board Chair David Postman agreed the questions about cannabis lounges had come up before, but “we've talked to some tribes [which had] done event-based not a permanent…social cannabis consuming thing.” Besides air quality, Postman noted other concerns had been raised, particularly “right now…you don't know how much you can smoke before it's safe to drive.” He believed most adults, “even though it gets abused horribly—know how much to drink, or how much to wait before they drink again.”
      • The Cannabis Alliance leadership hosted a discussion on cannabis lounge and social consumption policy on February 22nd.
    • Board Member Jim Vollendroff highlighted that he’d “talked to Rep. [Lauren] Davis about this, but I anticipate the high [tetrahydrocannabinol] THC concentration products will come up in some fashion.” He knew that Davis was seeking to hire a legislative aide, and she “does want to have a conversation.” Vollendroff then mentioned a “meeting we had with…the prevention folks” and Public Health Education Liaison Kristen Haley that also showed “there's some appetite to continue that conversation as well.” Webster promised to “loop [Davis] in” to their conversations (audio - 1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
  • Director of Licensing Becky Smith went over delays in the approval of labels for cannabis edibles and addressed how agency representatives were responding to concerns from licensees.
    • Smith relayed that the Licensing Program Specialist for Label Approval, Susan Harrell, was facing a steady stream of labels needing approval or “required revision, that means something within that label needed to be redone” (audio - 4m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • She said that out of 94 labels submitted in January 2024, “the number of labels approved in January was 57, and they took 17 days to approve.” She said Harrell had two weeks to review labels after they were received, and “they're reviewed in the order that they’re received.” Since May, when HB 1453 was passed “with the temporary excise tax exemption option…we started to receive a lot more labels.” Unfortunately, Harrell “also had an unexpected leave,” which Smith described as a three week “emergency leave,” rather than a scheduled vacation.
      • As there continued to be “a high level of submissions [and] revisions” sent to her office, “we added staff to be able to review those submissions. Because they were new to reviewing it took…a longer time.” Smith said changes were made to accommodate this task alongside her division’s contributions to the WSLCB Strategic Plan, including production of videos and presentations “about submitting correct labels” as an approach to minimize back and forth. She anticipated the revamp of the agency website would allow for easier embedding of videos so licensees and their staff can “go in and watch over and over again…and we're going to be reaching out to the industry once we make those videos to see…does this hit the point of, of helping?”
    • Vollendroff supported additional staff “helping with that particular body of work, and expanding it potentially to other products that we regulate.” He mentioned that Harrell had asked other members of the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) and “found out that other states charge for submission.” Vollendroff considered charging for label review to be one approach to ensuring more complete submissions (audio - 2m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • Smith shared that she’d been working with Research Manager Sarah Okey on better methods of reviewing labels. She expected Okey’s team would continue reviewing policies in other states before bringing findings to the board.
    • Postman commented that he hadn’t heard complaints about labeling delays, but since staff were reviewing the approach, “we should also spend some time talking about the policy behind it.” Given that board members sometimes had to “rule on the appeals” for disputed labels, he felt “it may also be time to reconsider some of what's been in place on the cannabis side for ten years.” Postman said evaluating the question of “is it all still necessary” was warranted, as well as “being consistent between concerns around…alcohol and cannabis and mixing and those sorts of things.” He supported the conversation Smith was describing, but “let's also make sure that we're talking about the policy behind it, not just the process” (audio - 2m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • Smith remarked that there would be an internal meeting on Friday June 14th about issues like product placement and labeling with staff from across divisions who would “like to see the rules stronger in order to help drive some of this process.”
    • Deputy Director Toni Hood indicated that packaging and labeling concerns had been raised at the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA) Spring Meeting in Walla Walla. She said Smith’s comments had helped clarify her understanding “because there was some confusion about how long LCB takes,” partially, “because of the back and forth, that often happens” (audio - 2m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
  • Staff who participated in a Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) External Stakeholder Meeting in Minneapolis the week before reviewed issues discussed during the event, which was ultimately opened to certain journalists.
    • Communications Director Brian Smith explained how members of the organization “wanted to branch out and have some engagement with the media there. They don't want to go all in, but they want to go a little bit.” He said he’d led a team “in developing a plan for them to be able to engage media in advance of the Minnesota meeting.” He described how “some national players did attend and did do questions, as well as some select state media from around the country. So I think everyone met the needs of what they were looking for” (audio - 1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • Smith mentioned his work on CANNRA media relations ahead of the Minneaplis meeting on May 8th, and staff went over their participation in the previous CANNRA meeting in December 2023.
      • While initial meetings were closed to outsiders, CANNRA leaders hosted the first External Stakeholder Meeting in Seattle in 2022, inviting some non-regulator organizations while curtailing all media access.
      • The original description of the June meeting stated it would be “closed to the press,” however an attendee list from May 28th had included staff from Politico and CNB Media.
      • In April, Cannabis Observer Founder Gregory Foster reached out to Smith about the process for being granted press privileges. Smith emailed back on May 28th, claiming “there is currently no written criteria for the media selection process. I was part of a small group of representatives that discussed some national reporters that CANNRA has have engaged with (NYT, WA Post, WSJ) and a handful of states supplied three or less reporters to invite. For this first meeting, that was the process.” He explained that Cannabis Observer hadn’t been considered in this process “because the Observer’s funding source is from the Washington cannabis industry. On the Cannabis Observer’s website, the funding source falls under the category of ‘Whom We Serve.’ That is an indication that the Observer is an advocacy publication and not an impartial and independent one.” Smith promised this was a “straight forward and honest answer,” that recordings from the event would be released by the group with “the permission of each of the panelists,” and that he would share links to the recordings if this happened.
        • Both the “Whom We Serve” and funding page also acknowledge those outside of cannabis licensees and trade groups who support our work, including attorneys, activists, lobbyists, software companies, testing labs, journalists, patients, and consumers.
      • Days later on May 31st, the CANNRA event description was updated to remove mention of the meeting being closed to the press. At time of publication, no articles related to the CANNRA June meeting had been posted on Politico, and a June 10th commentary piece from Cannabis Business Executive was the only article found referencing the meeting.
    • Lukela mentioned his participation in a panel on the first day of the meeting, and that there’d been “great conversations" on subjects such as “interstate commerce, rescheduling, high concentration THC, equity, cannabinoid hemp markets, data, you name it, it became part of everything.” He promised to share more with the board after staff had a chance to “unpack” what they’d heard (audio - 1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
  • Traceability alerts—albeit largely false positives—were a priority for staff according to Director of Enforcement and Education Chandra Wax, plus a traceability project manager could be hired and canopy concerns were mentioned.
    • Wax noted an increase in “internally generated complaints” through the Cannabis Central Reporting System (CCRS) to explain a pattern of “89% of our cannabis complaints this month were internally generated, and many of those are through the lens that we're looking at our traceability data now with alerts.” After expending resources investigating, “many of them…were not substantiated, for example, producers who are currently not growing, that would throw a flag in traceability because it would say ‘they're not entering info in the system,’” but “it's because there's no info to enter” (audio - 1mvideo - TVW, video - WSLCB).
      • Postman inquired whether this meant CCRS alerts were working. Wax confirmed that they were and she could present in more depth at a later time. She added around 55% of complaints related to public safety indicating there would be a “higher public safety number this month” because the complaints were “connected to diversion, and so that falls into the public safety category” (audio - <1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).
    • Hood stated that the Director’s office had begun a hiring process to find a Project Manager “to help with the traceability project and with other agency wide projects” (audio - 1mvideo - TVW, video - WSLCB).
    • Postman asked after “communications to cannabis growers at the beginning of the season about [a] reminder on canopy measurement,” and Wax suggested it could be part of cannabis topics and trends published by WSLCB. She promised to check and get back to Postman (audio - 1m, video - TVW, video - WSLCB).

Information Set