DOE - Cannabis Science Task Force Steering Committee
(June 11, 2021) - Next Steps

Transfer of Cannabis Testing Lab Accreditation Responsibility

Members debated the future of the task force while discussing planned agency request legislation to create an Interagency Coordination Team (ICT) to regulate lab accreditation.

Here are some observations from the Friday June 11th Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) Cannabis Science Task Force (CSTF) Steering Committee meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • The CSTF provided leadership for the transition of responsibility for cannabis testing laboratory accreditation from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) to the DOE.
    • A 2018 interim study from DOE staff advocated for moving lab accreditation to the department given similar work in other sectors. Passage of HB 2052 in 2019 established the CSTF, which first convened in August of that year.
    • The steering committee released their first report, Cannabis Science Task Force Recommendations: Laboratory Quality Standards for Pesticides in Cannabis Plants and Products, in June 2020. A second report covering other lab quality standards, “including, but not limited to, heavy metals in and potency of marijuana products” was required by the legislature no later than December 1st, 2021. Agencies were permitted several years for necessary rule and policy changes before DOE assumed authority over cannabis lab accreditation on July 1st, 2024.
    • The CSTF established several work groups to develop recommendations:
    • Work group meetings were not open to the public. Recommendations from each work group were presented by their leaders as motions for the executive steering committee to debate, potentially revise, and adopt or reject.
    • The last committee meeting was on May 24th. A key issue for the task force had been articulating who was the “client” of the DOE for the purpose of defining the lab accreditation standard. DOE would not define the standard, but instead accredit cannabis labs according to the articulated demands of an Interagency Coordination Team (ICT) consisting of representatives of the WSLCB, WSDA, and DOH. A March 23rd presentation on implementation of CSTF recommendations from DOE Environmental Assessment Program Manager Jennifer Carlson, the task force policy coordinator, stated the ICT would provide for:
      • Lack of federal oversight 
      • Technical assistance for labs 
      • Essential structure for performance based methods for pesticide testing 
    • Carlson also noted the creation of the ICT would require that lawmakers authorize “Initial and ongoing funding to create and maintain” the new regulatory entity.
  • Annette Hoffmann, DOE Environmental Assessment Program Manager and CSTF Chair, said the task force was “winding down” ahead of its final report and Jessica Archer, DOE Environmental Assessment Program Statewide Coordination Section Manager and committee member, described the “next steps” in the transfer process.
    • Hoffmann established that since the May 24th meeting, several members of the steering committee had contacted her “with concerns about...the task force...and its winding down” (audio - 4m).
      • She relayed the perspective of some state officials that the task force had been “funded to work through the end of this year” but available money could “extend the task force work beyond” the end of 2021 until the “end of February of 2022.” As staff were scheduling the final meetings of CSTF, Hoffman was grateful for “enthusiasm for continuing our work” by accredited lab representatives whom she regarded as “partners in this effort.”
      • During the May 24th meeting, Hoffmann led a very different discussion about winding down the task force which presumed “the work of the steering committee is largely done” and its last public meeting would occur in June (audio - 4m).
      • In an email sent on June 4th, the private lab members of the committee asked for the addition of an agenda item to discuss “the role and duties of the task force moving forward given the group has been funded for 1.5 more years. Additionally, what (if any) role the task force might have in drafting regulatory or legislative language based on the group’s recommendations?”
    • Archer went over “wrapping up the task force work,” saying that the work groups would be able to continue “for quite a bit longer” with available funds. However, this was the final CSTF meeting where motions could be included in the final report to lawmakers due in December (audio - 4m). 
      • Hoffman said “we’ve had some savings in that funding because of COVID[-19]” and reduced costs on “meeting expenses” allowing CSTF work “through February of 2022.”
      • Archer commented that the task force was “on track, we’re going to complete everything that was required by house bill 2052” and it was “important for accreditation that these work groups continue developing methods” as it would help regulators “get a lot further.” Moreover, the work groups could continue presenting motions which the committee could vote to document as “memos...shared...with LCB to be sort of the holders of that until the ICT is formed.” At that point, the information would be given to ICT staff who would “move forward with bringing those into our regulatory framework.”
      • Archer said the potency work group could “sort of reconvene to take on the moisture and water activity” as that effort was “important.” She added that the “residual solvents work group” could be “taking on terpenes” once that group’s “mycotoxin work is complete,” and the microbiology work group would continue working as well.
  • Several of the committee members representing private labs asked clarifying questions about their role in the policymaking process for the ICT, a prospective multi-agency cannabis regulatory entity which would define a lab accreditation standard which the DOE would implement.
    • Jeff Doughty, Capitol Analysis CEO and Chemistry Manager and committee member, wondered if accredited labs would have representation on the ICT. He felt the contribution of his company and other labs on the CSTF had been “pretty valuable,” offering perspectives “different” from regulators, and representing the “front lines” of cannabis analytical chemistry. “I would like to be part of the ICT moving forward,” Doughty remarked, concerned about losing a “voice at the table” (audio - 6m).
      • Archer agreed with the contribution labs had made to the task force’s work while emphasizing that the structure of the ICT had always been envisioned to be “separate from accreditation” staff at DOE and separate from “those that are being regulated.” She noted the “independence piece is probably going to be pretty important.”
      • Kendra Hodgson, WSLCB Cannabis Examiner Manager and committee member, felt this was a “fair concern” but as the ICT “becomes the body...that is operating in a regulatory space, it’s not a committee.” She clarified that as the ICT began rulemaking for “the drafting of those programs” for lab accreditation, “all of that is going to have to go out through public” meetings with stakeholder opportunities “to weigh in.”
    • Nick Mosely, Confidence Analytics CEO and committee member, sought “some reassurance" that stakeholders would have an ongoing “mechanism for providing input.” He brought up the text of the law creating the CSTF which specifically defined its expiration date at the end of 2022. He asked how the estimate of funding through February 2022 was determined, and whether funds could go further with less frequent meetings (audio - 11m).
      • Hoffmann replied that funding approved by the legislature covered the implementation of the entire bill which included the task force as well as “a number of positions that we’re using” to lead the work groups. A delay in hiring a chemist at DOE extended the allotted money, she mentioned, stating that “the bill and the funding kind of go together.”
      • Carlson contended that funding established in 2018 had only been earmarked to fund the task force through its final report to lawmakers at the end of 2021. She claimed the 2022 end date was specified in the event “the report ended up being a little late, there was some feedback from the legislature, and the task force needed to convene.” Carlson said DOE never intended to fund CSTF meetings “through the end of 2022” and task force budgeting was based on having staff and meetings through the end of the year.
      • Mosely asked if the funding timeline was set at the “discretion” of DOE representatives. Archer replied that money wasn’t discretionary as the original fiscal note generated for the enacting legislation stopped in 2022. Mosely then asked about the “burn rate” for funding, and whether a “hiatus” in meetings could extend the tenure of the committee. Hoffmann said staff had been assigned to CSTF to accomplish tasks like the report which, once completed, would mean the end of their time devoted to the task force.
      • The 2021-23 biennium operating budget signed into law on May 18th appropriated $546,000 to DOE for “implementation of accreditation of marijuana product testing laboratories,” which included the activities of the CSTF. By way of comparison, the supplemental operating budget signed into law in April 2020 appropriated $929,000 to DOE for the same purpose during fiscal years (FY) 2020 and 2021.
    • Doughty was “still a little confused...if there’s funding, and there’s still work to do,” he asked why committee endeavors were being halted (audio - 5m).
      • Hoffmann reiterated that rulemaking related to the work of the ICT would be “very open and very public and has lots of opportunity for stakeholder’s input.” This process would repeat for all new methods or requirements, she explained, and apologized if Doughty or anyone else felt “that you’re being pushed aside” as cannabis labs were going to be “very connected through those stakeholder processes.”
      • Hodgson repeated Archer’s opening point that the meeting would be the last for “content to go into the next official report” and promised that the committee would “maintain, for as long as we can.” Doughty felt better knowing that committee meetings to review work group findings would continue. Hoffmann reiterated that after the meeting, the “repository” for CSTF work would no longer be a legislative report, but instead memoranda submitted to WSLCB.
    • Mosely offered lingering “trepidation” about the remaining contribution of the committee in view of “the fact that the ICT is playing such a vital role in the future success of our work, and it doesn’t exist” (audio - 6m). 
      • He reasoned that the drafting of agency request legislation to set up the ICT “would happen in the fall” and the new entity was unlikely to be funded until “June of 2022” leaving a “six month gap, where there is no task force and there is no ICT.” Hodgson explained that agency request legislation was due in September and agency officials from DOE, WSDA, WSLCB, and DOH “have met” and “made assignments” to create legislative and budget drafts. She stressed that since "there's no drafts in the world" there was nothing to present to the committee.
      • Mosely suggested that “the success of that legislation would be enhanced if the task force were to be involved in the drafting” and “it would help when it comes to [the] legislative session and we’re not all feeling blindsided by a report that we hadn’t seen yet.” Hodgson responded that what was happening was “agency work right now” and their efforts “were not intending to build the task force recommendations into statute, but build the authority in the right places so agencies can be assigned to then take the recommendations and then move them through the rule process.” This made it easier to incorporate changes through rule in the future, she stated. 
      • Hoffmann assured Mosely there was “a stakeholder piece”; “a role” for lab representatives and the public; and that he wouldn’t be “blindsided.”
    • Mosely suspected there would be multiple request bills to set up the ICT. Hodgson confirmed, but said officials “still have to go to the governor’s office” for approval and promised to follow up with Mosely after that point. Mosely then asked if WSLCB Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson “would be open to coming to the task force and presenting on what he’s working on.” Hodgson was receptive to the idea “once we’ve got all our ducks in a row” with the governor’s staff (audio - 3m).  
    • The next CSTF Steering Committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday August 5th during which one hour was allotted on the agenda for a presentation on “Proposed Legislation.”  The final task force report was due to the Washington State Legislature (WA Legislature) by December 1st, 2021.

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