UW ADAI - Symposium - 2022 - Comments From Public Officials
(September 16, 2022) - Summary

Lauren Davis - 32nd Legislative District - Cannabis Quotes

Three Democratic state legislators shared their views on research and pushing legislation around cannabis products with high cannabinoid concentrations, if re-elected.

Here are some observations from the Friday September 16th University of Washington Addictions, Drugs, and Alcohol Institute (UW ADAI) 2022 Symposium on “High-THC Cannabis in Legal Regulated Markets.”

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Shelley Kloba, Chair of the Washington State House Commerce and Gaming Committee (WA House COG), spoke to the role she saw for behavioral health policy in cannabis regulation and the need for a “360 degree view” of the subject (audio - 5m, video).
    • Representing the first legislative district, Kloba led the Washington State House of Representatives (WA House) committee responsible for oversight on “alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and gambling.” With her background “in kinesiology and physiology,” she considered them to be “all substances or activities that mankind has used, ever since they figured ‘em out, to change their brain chemistry in some way that seems appealing.” All four had drawbacks in Kloba’s estimation and “there is some mitigation that I think we have a responsibility for as a state that derives revenue from these activities” in part since “we want to regulate them so that they are safe, and fair, and that we're able to have the funding available to mitigate any of the harms…and do some prevention work.”
    • “I feel like I'm an accidental tourist to the cannabis industry,” explained Kloba, “I had really almost no awareness of it prior to becoming a” WA House COG member “but since I got on that committee, I felt like I had an obligation to learn as much as I could.” She said the resulting “interesting journey” involved researchers from UW and Washington State University (WSU) whom she lauded for “the multitude of different ways that they have encouraged studies and the way that they reach out to legislators, like me, to help to educate me.”
    • Kloba wanted to legislate cannabis from a “fact-based perspective and we need to look at a 360 degree view of the whole entire thing.” She recognized “one of the things we're looking at here is…largely from a behavioral health perspective” and appreciated an “additional perspective of market, and market forces, and how that has an impact on usage. But, I also know that it is a far more complicated substance with a very long history.” Kloba noted the “great potential for benefits…and creating some real solutions for various medical conditions that really plague people.” Moreover, cannabis was something she perceived as carrying “a great deal of stigma attached to it.” Saying “some of you that are my age or older, almost your entire life this has been a product that has been illegal,” stated Kloba, with “a whole entire racist-based history of the product that, whether we understand it or not, is a part of our bias as we think about it.” This “makes it even more important, I think, that we are able to have an objective look at the facts,” she added. 
    • Thanking the symposium’s organizers and guests “for being engaged in this” as well as “digging in deep to all of these various facets,” Kloba’s goal was “to be able to learn from all of you and I hope that you'll feel comfortable in reaching out.”
    • 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."
    • At time of publication, Kloba was running for re-election to her seat against Republican Jerome Zeiger-Buccola.
  • Representative Lauren Davis promised further legislation would be needed to respond to "a generational increase" in mental health problems she attributed to high cannabinoid concentration items protected by a “predatory industry" which reflexively opposed product bans (audio - 8m, video).
    • Davis thanked their hosts at UW, particularly Beatriz Carlini, UW ADAI Research Scientist in charge of the ADAI Cannabis Education and Research Program (CERP) and the symposium Program Chair. Representing the 32nd legislative district, she knew she had “a fairly unique and unusual space in the drug policy debate. Substance use disorder is my professional background and it's largely what I work on in the legislature.”
    • Davis pointed out that in February 2021, “I was actually speaking on a bill to decriminalize—not legalize but decriminalize—possession of all drugs” when she had “to step out of that committee to testify on a bill in Representative Kloba’s committee to cap the potency of cannabis concentrates.” Acknowledging how “people find that conflicting actually,” she commented, “in my opinion it's not. I can care deeply about prevention and deeply believe that treatment works and that people can and do recover.”
    • After voters in the state legalized cannabis in 2012 through Initiative 502, Davis considered it “pretty clear that the individuals thought that they were legalizing cannabis the plant and that what people thought they were legalizing is not the cannabis we heard about today.” She argued the initiative didn’t legalize cannabis, “we commercialized THC in the state of Washington and I think there's an enormous gap between the public awareness of what's happening and this conversation.” Davis felt that “alcohol wasn't necessarily hugely problematic societally until it was distilled, tobacco as we heard today wasn't necessarily hugely problematic until the invention of the cigarette, and cannabis wasn't necessarily hugely problematic until it became highly concentrated and highly potent.” Despite her admittedly “fairly myopically focused” concern over concentrates, Davis appreciated having heard other speakers “today highlighting the myriad of concerns related to legalization that transcend the issues related to high potency cannabis products.”
    • Davis wanted to speak to “what I might call myth versus reality, things the cannabis industry says” while lobbying for their businesses “and one of the things they will consistently say regarding something like a potency cap or or banning products is that everything will go to the black market and it will be an abject failure.” However, she pointed to the keynote on “Market Trends in High Potency Cannabis Products” from Jonathan Caulkins to claim it was “not true that not every ban is an abject failure that it doesn't always go to the black market.”
    • Davis also challenged how representatives of cannabis companies portrayed their own customers, “what they describe as the prototypical cannabis consumer…a soccer mom who uses concentrates to relax.” Instead, she claimed that the symposium presenters “repeatedly” demonstrated that demographic “represents one in 50 of the customers and that the other customers are either underaged, addicted, or using extremely heavily.”
    • In her previous work at UW “in suicide prevention specifically,” Davis remembered, “one of the biggest gaps we faced in the world of suicidology was that the general public didn't understand that there was a nexus between firearms and suicide. That firearm ownership itself put everyone in a household at risk for suicide.” She also believed that “in this country, there's almost no one who is unaware that there is a nexus between alcohol use in pregnancy and birth defects.” However, “the general public does not understand the likes of what we discussed today.”
    • Davis acknowledged that “as much as I spend time thinking about and researching this topic,” she’d learned “an incredible amount today and I truly do not understand why being the first state [to legalize] that this is not on the front page at the Seattle Times because it's extremely troubling.” She felt lawmakers should fear “a generational increase in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders and the toll that that takes on state systems and as it relates to homelessness and criminal legal implications and state hospitals, and could we do something now to stem that tide, and are we not?” 
    • Davis reiterated how uninformed she thought most people were on the topic, since she’d been called “every name in the book: Nancy Reagan, Reefer Madness, because they don't know they're still using this availability heuristic and thinking about cannabis this harmless plant.” Davis felt anyone attending the symposium would have come away with the same impression as her, but the “public is not ‘woke’ on this topic. So the only option is for the legislature to become woke very quickly, and to have a serious amount of political courage to take that step and it's absolutely in my opinion the right step to take…these much-needed public health measures.”
    • “And the last comment I'll make is about equity,” Davis told attendees, “cannabis legalization in the state was really sold as an equity measure. It was sold under this veneer of anti-racism and social justice, but what struck me today was the comments about what happens when you have a cannabis retailer close to your home and the increase in use and increase in frequency, [and] duration of use.” Davis had noticed some local officials were “concentrating cannabis stores in the state of Washington the same way we concentrate alcohol stores, tobacco stores, in communities of color and lower income communities.”
    • Davis concluded that the cannabis sector in the state was “a predatory industry…they’re preying on the vulnerable: the young, people of color, people predisposed to mental illness. And in my opinion, it is the job of policy makers to do the right thing and to respond to this what is becoming a public health emergency quite quickly.”
    • At publication time, Davis was running for re-election to her seat against Republican Anthony Hubbard.
  • Senator Jesse Salomon speculated on the “veto power” cannabis stakeholders had over legislation in the sector, and that lawmakers should consider what's best for communities rather than being stridently pro- or anti-cannabis legalization (audio - 4m, video).

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