King County Council COW - Committee Meeting
(September 7, 2022) - WSLCB Briefing

King County Council - WSLCB - Money and Cannabis

Members heard about social equity, pesticide testing, and retail safety from WSLCB regulators before a follow up on a cannabis business safety task force by the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday September 7th King County Council Committee of the Whole (King County Council COW) Committee Meeting.

My top 5 takeaways:

  • Director of Licensing and Regulation Becky Smith reported on the status of a social equity licensing program being developed by WSLCB, including a revised timeline on when the application window would begin (audio - 7m, video).
    • Throughout 2022, Smith had been integral to preparing and conveying agency plans for equity applications and the awarding of licenses.
    • In the meeting, council members heard Smith explain how the program aimed to “increase the number of cannabis retail licenses held by social equity applicants from disproportionately impacted areas as well as to reduce accumulated harm suffered by individuals, [and] families subject to impact from the War on Drugs.” She commented on the role WSLCB leaders had in establishing the WA SECTF whose members delivered initial recommendations in January 2022.
      • Smith relayed that “most” recommendations from the task force were included in their rulemaking project for social equity, and that a public hearing on the CR-102 was scheduled for Wednesday September 14th. The proposal covered “all of the program eligibility requirements and a process to qualify for license.”
      • Turning to the licenses which were “forfeited, revoked, cancelled, or not previously issued,” Smith stated that eight licenses would be available for successful equity applicants in King County. Should WSLCB proposed rules be adopted, these businesses could “locate anywhere available in their county” rather than a specific jurisdiction.
      • “Some of the highlights about programs” she identified were a 30-day application window, online education and training options, and review of applications by a third party vendor. The highest scoring applications would be processed by Smith’s division, and ties settled through “a double blind lottery.” She described the “need to meet all the licensing requirements,” inclusive of finding a “location, security requirements, we’ll do financial vetting on…who's a true party of interest” or is “putting money into the business just as we do now and that's before any licenses will be issued.”
      • The Washington State Department of Commerce would oversee a technical assistance grant program, Smith commented, which had educational components on “business development,” sales, marketing, and financing. “The second piece” she noted was “a one-on-one personal mentorship” to be “facilitated [in a] mentor/mentee event” which could lead to the mentor helping with a “business plan” covering real estate, tax preparation, “website creation,” and other “specific duties.”
      • Smith told the committee agency officials had contracted with a company to "to build our virtual website and help us with our virtual events” which would consist of "instruction videos" explaining the application process. She suggested questions be submitted online so they could more easily be tracked and added to the agency frequently asked questions on the topic.
      • “There's a lot of work going on,” concluded Smith, who offered to return any time “before we open that 30-day window” to share more information.
    • Councilmember Sarah Perry thanked Smith for presenting. “There's a lot of bias, for many reasons, that you have to work through,” she remarked, “and I just think it's a really important conversation” (audio - 1m, video).
  • Policy and Rules Manager Kathy Hoffman went over revisions to “pesticide testing regulation” before one council member called for a briefing on high-THC cannabis products (audio - 5m, video).
    • Hoffman said agency representatives had “moved forward with mandatory…pesticide testing for all adult use cannabis products in Washington state.” She noted that while designation of medically compliant cannabis had always required pesticide and heavy metal testing, it wasn’t until 2018 after hearing concerns “from many stakeholders” such as medical cannabis patients that a long-term rulemaking project was undertaken resulting in pesticide testing being adopted in rule on March 2nd. Hoffman highlighted changes in lot size; testing and sampling protocols; remediation; and cost implications.
    • In an effort to “reduce the impact of this rule change,” Hoffman explained there was a “producer/processor phase in period that allows product produced or processed prior” to the pesticide requirements to be sold to retailers through September. Next, she indicated “a retail sell-down period” for those retailers to then “sell through that product through the end of” 2022, similar to sell-down periods after packaging and labeling changes.
    • Hoffman concluded that these rule changes were expected to bolster consumer confidence and showcased a WSLCB commitment to implementing safe standards as “we continue random testing and pesticide investigations, as we always have, to ensure product safety.” She claimed an “updated traceability system allows our Enforcement and Education staff to see quality control failures earlier." 
    • Kohl-Welles pointed out that in her first year on the Council in 2016, she’d pushed for regulators to begin pesticide investigations and asked about the results of their partnership with Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) staff. Hoffman stated WSDA officials tested 75 samples a month, the selection of which was “largely complaint driven," and the contract assisted in “other work that we're doing in terms of investigations” (audio - 2m, video).
    • Expressing a broader interest in cannabis policy, Perry wanted a “separate conversation” pertaining to “issue[s] around potency and to dispel some myths around that and some scare tactics around that, but also some very real concerns with the issue.” Honing in on “those with behavioral health issues taking particular medications and the overwhelming issue of a psychotic episode when mixing these” substances, she requested comment or a future presentation on “the concern around the potency issue and how we monitor this.” Vollendroff chimed in, hopeful the inquiry “whets everybody’s appetite" to learn more about the matter in a separate meeting, before pointing to the University of Washington Addictions, Drugs, and Alcohol Institute (UW ADAI) symposium on High-THC Cannabis in Legal Regulated Markets scheduled for Friday September 16th. He promised to follow up with Perry and schedule another briefing in “the near future” (audio - 2m, video).
  • King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Chief of Staff Mark Ellerbrook offered an explanation for postponement of the work of the cannabis business security task force created on May 17th (audio - 4m, video).
    • Ellerbrook pointed to the motion passed by the council directing King County Executive Dow Constantine to stand up a task force and compile a “report delivered by the end of August.” His team had “reached out” to council member offices to “see if we could get an extension on that,” allegedly due to staffing challenges, and they were "given the nod" to push their report back. He continued, “we're going to be doing that over the fall and winter and we're actually in the process of hiring a consultant to help with the convening” of stakeholders and official agencies stipulated in the council’s motion. Ellerbrook forecast a final report would be delivered at “the end of the first quarter of 2023.” He concurred with the value of the outreach already undertaken by WSLCB, and added that sheriff’s deputies had also met with several area cannabis businesses to give additional safety “feedback,” something he was confident had “gone a long way in the drop off that we’ve seen” in robberies. His department continued to participate in making retail locations safer, Ellerbrook argued, even if a report on the situation would take longer than anticipated.
      • Ellerbrook briefly spoke about the SAFE Banking Act, saying KCSO "strongly supports" the change. The "unique situation" required getting cannabis retailers opportunities for “non-cash financial resources” so they were no longer “a simple, logical target" for violent crime (audio - 1m, video).
    • Kohl-Welles asked if KCSO representatives had reached out to the county’s congressional delegation. Ellerbrook confirmed they had and noted Constantine’s office was considering the legislation part of “their legislator priorities at the federal level” for an upcoming trip by officials to Washington, D.C. (audio - 1m, video).
    • Councilmember Reagan Dunn, sponsor of the original motion, "appreciate[d] the good work that’s going on" (audio - <1m, video). Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor with Dunn, agreed and looked forward to the task force’s eventual report (audio - <1m, video).

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