The Cannabis Alliance - WA Cannabis Summit - 2022 - Opening Keynote
(October 1, 2022) - Summary

Shelley Kloba - 1st Legislative District - 2023 Legislative Preview

The chair of the WA House cannabis policy committee commented on her background as well as legislative concerns and strategies she expected to hear during the 2023 session.

Here are some observations from the Saturday October 1st Washington State Cannabis Summit (WA Cannabis Summit) hosted by The Cannabis Alliance.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • The summit was kicked off with a keynote by Shelley Kloba, Chair of the Washington State House Commerce and Gaming Committee (WA House COG), who reflected on her legislative history with cannabis policymaking and with the Alliance (audio - 6m, video).
    • Kloba served as vice chair of WA House COG starting in 2017 before being appointed chair in January 2021. She attended the alliance January 2019 summit along with Governor Jay Inslee and spoke on the panel “Fortifying Washington State in Preparation for Federalization” at the summit in September 2021. Additionally, she addressed their legislative webinar on March 23rd.
    • Telling attendees “I appreciate all of you, I think this might be the fifth time I've come” to an Alliance summit, Kloba started to describe “how I landed here.” Representing the first legislative district, she saw herself as “an accidental tourist in the land of cannabis” whom, “when I started into elected office, I didn't necessarily know that that's where I was going.”
    • She felt “you can look at your own city for…years” without seeing “the same things that a tourist does, or not enjoy the same things. Coming at a place with new eyes…is a really interesting opportunity.” With a degree “in kinesiology” and having “studied physiology,” Kloba had been certified to work “in a physical therapy clinic as a massage therapist for more than 20 years.”
    • “I was elected to the Kirkland City Council and it was around about 2014 and our community had voted about 65% in favor of legalization of cannabis,” Kloba stated. She presumed, “that sounds like a great place to start a business, right?”
      • However, “that first effort into siting a store in your neighborhood didn't go well. We had folks coming out in droves in opposition of putting a store on a commercial street near a neighborhood.” Rather than “giving in to NIMBY-ism,” Kloba said the council opted to “a look at, what are the things that the opponents” wanted in the location of a cannabis store, “what does that look like? Because you can't just say ‘not here.’ You have to say ‘well, what does there look like?’ And so it was things like traffic pattern, plenty of parking,” and “away from a school walk route.”
      • She continued, remarking that officials “took a look at our map and of course something like eight percent of our commercial zoning areas were outside of the thousand foot buffers. And so that's not much in terms of trying to locate a store in a city.” Kloba and the council then looked for property the city could zone that fit the opponent’s criteria, “and it turns out that we had light industrial zoning for warehouses and things like that and we were able to change the limitation” for the area to suit cannabis retailers, with the first retailer opening in that area in February 2015. Subsequently, she reported that those same “opponents who were...with torches and pitchforks that came to our meetings came back, and during the public comment they said ‘we felt heard, this was a good process, we were very happy with the end result, and we think that this will be good for this person's business.’” Kloba considered this a happy ending, “but that was my introduction into a contentious issue.”
    • Kloba thought her approach to cannabis policymaking in the Washington State House of Representatives (WA House), which she framed as “Physiology Girl,” differed from her legislative colleagues (audio - 3m, video).
      • “There are pro-business folks, there are folks who look at it through abstinence/prohibition kind of a lens, there's folks who look at it through public health, there's you know Libertarians who look at it like ‘oh, hey we should be free to do whatever we want is as adults,’” she explained. The activities within the WA House COG “purview” (cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling) had all been called “vices,” but she tended “to think of them as activities and substances that people have used since we first figured them out. People have used them to alter their brain chemistry temporarily in a way that is pleasant or enjoyable and…they've always been around.”
      • “We’ve seen prohibition on all four of those things and we've moved away from prohibition in many of our states on all of those things, with the exception of tobacco, which has actually been moving more toward prohibition,” she mentioned, though tobacco “doesn't have as much to recommend it as something like cannabis does.”
      • Kloba figured that “when a government takes a role in regulating something like this, the purpose is generally a consumer focused perspective” to “make sure it's safe. We're trying to remove the criminal element. We're trying to make sure that everything is fair, and people follow the rules, and I think that's an important role for us to take. But I also think that because we derive revenue from this business…we have an obligation to make sure that we are working together with those industries to mitigate the harms that can come along with all four of those things.”
      • WA House COG scheduled a December 2nd work session concerning "Regulatory and enforcement activities related to cannabinoid products, including products containing delta-8-[tetrahydrocannabinol] THC or other cannabinoids that are synthetically derived from hemp."
  • With a legislative session less than four months away, Kloba expected to be hearing about research, product and industry “integrity,” patient access, social equity, and public education (audio - 14m, video).
    • Research - “I will continue to be a fighter for increased funding for research…in order to make good policy decisions,” said Kloba. She added that this included looking into “what's the least amount of input you can get for the most amount of output and all of those things.” Kloba pointed to UW and Washington State University (WSU) as being “among others who have their own cannabis research centers and are doing amazing work, and have projects lined up that if we could fund it they could do it.” She mentioned projects could cover “cancer cures and how best to diminish underage use” along with other topics.
    • Integrity - Kloba hoped to “work on protecting the integrity of the product and the industry, and the way we're going to do this…is to make it abundantly clear that synthetically derivedtetrahydrocannabinols (THC) “has no place in the market.” She claimed a Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) settlement with Unicorn Brands further clarified how agency leaders “have asserted successfully that they have the authority now…to enforce the fact that it's prohibited under current rules and law in the regulated market.” Kloba’s view was that the agency needed to validate their authority to “do enforcement outside of the regulated market” and their 2023 request legislation on the matter could help ensure that ability.
    • Hemp in Food - Creating “some real clarity between cannabis products and hemp consumables is going to be really beneficial,” stated Kloba.
    • Patient Issues - Kloba mentions medical cannabis “patient access, and there will be three bills that…are familiar to people - we've run them before; they're coming back.”
      • “Protections from arrest” for those patients not in the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) medical cannabis registry - Patients authorized by their doctor to use cannabis, but not registered, could only exercise an affirmative court defense and there was “no reason why people should be treated as a second class citizen and not have the full set of rights.”
        • Check out prior legislation on this topic from 2022, HB 1105.
      • Elimination of “the excise tax on the medically compliant product” - Kloba expected “we are always going to need an army of advocates to help legislators understand the importance of that.”
        • Learn more from the most recent bill on the subject from 2021, SB 5004.
      • Home Grow - Kloba noted “we’ve seen success in other states. You should be able to grow some…reasonable amount of plants.” This could help “patients for obvious reasons. It's not going to help every single patient, but certainly it will be something that they're going to find useful.”
    • Social Equity - “I can't really be in the minds of the people who wrote the initiative and thought about how it should be shaped in order for successful passage,” explained Kloba, “but my view is they looked at legalizing the product…as this is the way that we are going to correct all of these inequities in enforcement that have more heavily impacted folks in our community of color and…it certainly is a good goal, but it’s not enough.” She felt it was “incumbent on us to try to learn from them about what [we can] do to even this playing field, and even you know, help people catch up who've been left behind” given the “long shadow that was cast on communities of color by the war on drugs.” Successfully adopting Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) recommendations wasn’t guaranteed, Kloba cautioned, but WSLCB staff had prepared an agency request bill which would:
    • Education - Kloba reported that the UW ADAI symposium "focused on a problem that we are seeing which is that there seems to be a correlation between high intensity, high frequency use among adolescents that correlates to early onset psychosis. This is a mental condition that dogs you the rest of your life and can really present challenges in terms of staying stably housed and consistently employed.”
      • Anticipating that “there will be a variety of different strategies…proposed. It seems to me that at least we…industry, public health, recovery community, substance use prevention…everyone could probably agree on some education.” This wouldn’t just be education geared towards adolescents, but “for grown-ups who maybe have not been familiar with the products” and weren’t “gonna walk in the store because it's kind of intimidating and so if they can get some common sense factual information outside of that, I think that'll be helpful.”
      • Moreover, “educating parents how to have these conversations with their kids. And one of the things that I have seen as I looked around, our neighbors to the north do a pretty good job. So, up in [British Columbia] BC, there's something called ‘Here to Help’” that was a “project of the BC Partnership for Mental Health and Substance Use information…and they've been working together to help people live well and better prevent and manage mental health and substance use problems.”
    • “I look out at you and I know that you are all people of integrity, and it is not your intention to sell a product that's going to cause harm to your customers,” Kloba told attendees. She continued, “I don't know necessarily that people who don't know you know that, so I think it's an important thing to, to make it obvious and state it.” Legislating on “research, industry integrity and product integrity, social equity, education, patient access and rights,” was what she could forecast with the most certainty for the legislative session. “There were probably other things coming down the pike that my colleagues have not informed me that they’re hoping will come in front of my committee,” acknowledged Kloba. She committed to legislating for “the best course of action for the entire public interest.”
    • At time of publication, Kloba was standing for re-election to her seat against  Republican Jerome Zeiger-Buccola.
  • Kloba delved into two questions, one on beneficial cannabis research, and another regarding possible cannabinoid concentration legislation.
    • Sue Sisley, Adjunct Faculty at the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research and head of the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), was pleased to hear Kloba’s comments on research funding but wanted to “just give a caveat for folks here who are paying into this government money that may be used to sponsor the research - that it's really crucial that you question what kind of research is going to get done. Because what we see in other states is that they use the industry funds to continue to do safety studies looking only at harmful effects of cannabis.” She asked Kloba for the state to invest in research “to support looking at cannabis as a medicine not just as a drug of abuse” (audio - 6m, video).
      • Sisley acknowledged as “somebody who regularly does federally regulated cannabis research,” some “smart states” were prioritizing beneficial research. But some institutions “want to…pour tons of money into studying rat brains that it's just, you know, super esoteric research that nobody's going to get benefited from during our life.” 
      • She promised Kloba “we can give you language that will guarantee that you're getting the research you really want, that your patients are going to be able to learn clinically relevant data on how to use the products that you're making.” Sisley also inquired about “the makeup of the current legislature here…what is the feeling…how many members do you think will support meaningful reforms here that will improve this industry?”
      • Kloba welcomed Sisley’s suggestions, mentioning that she’d previously gotten input from University of Washington Center for Cannabis Research (UW CCR) Director Nephi Stella and others looking at the medical potential of the cannabis plant. “On the composition of the legislature, so we're still in election mode,” she noted, but “I think before the primary there was a lot of concern that this would be a big red wave that we would have a lot of Republicans. Now, that A) doesn't necessarily mean that they're anti-cannabis. We have all kinds. And B) we didn't actually see that red wave come to fruition.” Kloba was confident that politicians receptive to cannabis reforms still needed voter support “we can feel fairly certain that the Democrats will maintain the majority in the [Washington State] House and Senate and they tend to be more friendly to issues like this,” even if it wasn’t “all of them.” There was “a portion who like to refer to themselves as the ‘dry caucus’ and that's fine,” she said, along with “some folks who really come at it from a recovery and a prevention perspective and that's sometimes gonna be at odds with the industry.” 
      • Mentioning the possibility for a cannabis “omnibus bill, there's always that tension between do you try to go for the whole enchilada…or sometimes these are hard to get passed. Sometimes it's better to split it out and have a very logical process to just take a bite at a time and I really can't tell you which is the right way to go,” Kloba added. Having heard “one discussion about some of the potential things that could be in that bill,” she “hope[d] that we can engage in a process that” forgoes emotion to “think about what are the various interests, and then figure out a path forward.”
    • Cannabis Alliance Vice President and Eden Labs CEO A.C. Braddock relayed that when testifying against HB 2546 (“Concerning the potency of marijuana products”) in January 2020, she was one of many in the cannabis sector concerned about “the overuse by teenagers and leading to psychosis problem.” She was curious to hear more about education efforts, “because that's how any of this gets solved is just education.” Braddock argued that by placing a cap on THC concentration in products, “they don't realize that in order for the industry to do that they would have to get into preparatory chromatography to start separating out all of these different cannabinoids…which is unbelievably expensive.” She wondered if legislators wanting to regulate cannabis items were “thinking about…this missing piece that is crucial to this, to the success of all of these businesses,” having seen “over, and over, and over again where…the entire process is not methodically, thoughtfully considered” (audio - 7m, video).
      • Kloba was cognizant of the reality that “other legislators who don't have this big interest. Maybe it's a little harder to get their attention and to help them understand what would be the repercussions of having some sort of limit.” She compared this to the 2019 scare around vapor associated lung injury (VALI), widely believed to have resulted from use of an unsafe additive in unlicensed products.
      • When she was a college student, Kloba had “experiences with alcohol that were pleasant at first, and then they're not. And what was helpful for me was to have this class that I took and it was extracurricular, it was like a one hour, two hour thing, where they explained ‘Okay, here's alcohol. Here's what it does. Here's a standard serving and all of you probably are familiar with this four ounce glass of wine, a one ounce glass of liquor, or an eight ounce beer. Those are relatively equivalent.’” She explained that the course had covered differences in alcohol volume, metabolism, and other areas that helped people “stay in a moderate kind of enjoyable state” related to alcohol.
      • “What is that for cannabis?” she asked rhetorically. “I don't have a clue and certainly some of the consumers over time just figure out what works for them, what doesn't work for them…it's a much bigger research project that you have to embark on for yourself to be, you know, consuming safely and appropriately.” By not having “any of that, and it may be harder in cannabis because there's not necessarily a nice neat equivalency, but I think that there could be some education” covering specific products like edibles, Kloba believed, “and if you don't feel anything stop, wait before you consume more.”
      • For parents, she mentioned the Here to Help framing of “here's how to have a conversation with your kids. Do some motivational interviewing, what do they see themselves doing in five years, and ten years, and does cannabis fit in for them with that vision?” She was confident, “a lot of times the answer is ‘no’ for kids, I would hope,” but “you can't just demonize it because they're going to have a friend who uses it to control their epilepsy,” or a “grandma who uses it to control their arthritis. I'm making real stereotypes here, but I don't think it's appropriate to just say ‘don't do it.’ We've seen the studies, that doesn't work.”

Information Set