WA SECTF - Public Meeting
(June 28, 2022) - Summary

WA SECTF - Technical Assistance and Mentorship Program - Ponder Cannabis NLRB Case

The task force elected a new co-chair, learned the status of a technical assistance and mentorship program, and heard allegations about “anti-union” activity of a retailer.

Here are some observations from the Tuesday June 28th Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) Public Meeting.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • The election of a new co-chair for the task force provided insight into how the legislative and “community” leaders would collaborate to conclude the group’s work.
  • A new appointee to the task force for the Washington State Department of Commerce (WA Commerce) was introduced, and department staff presented the Technical Assistance Grants and Mentorship program they were preparing to administer.
    • A WA Commerce advisor briefed the TA and Mentorship Work Group about the status of this program in June 2021
    • Morgan started off saying this would be a chance for them to consider the impact of recommendations on TA and Mentorship approved in September 2021. She welcomed Alison Beason, WA Commerce Sector Lead for Life Science and Global Health, as the new appointee to WA SECTF from the department (audio - 1m, video).
    • Beason noted her position involved working with the Washington State Office of the Governor (WA Governor) on life science and health issues. She’d worked in Washington D.C. “around 15 years” for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). Upon returning to Washington state, she worked for the City of Tacomacreating an Equity Index, which is very similar to the environmental health disparities map” maintained by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). Beason then completed a similar map for the Port of Seattle for the “distribution of funds” from “the South King County [Community Impact] Fund” which supported economic development in “a very diverse community” in the county (audio - 2m, video).
    • Beason presented on the Technical Assistance Mentorship Program which she expected would “launch this summer,” but was still open to input by task force members and the broader public via her email. This included any edits or “blindspot[s]” people identified in order to have the program represent the intent of the task force as much as possible (audio - 2m, video, presentation).
      • Beason reported that the program would be centered on “technical assistance and the roster of mentors” with “a three tiered system” corresponding to suggestions department staff had gotten from WA SECTF, including those “you thought weren’t capable of happening.”
      • “We understand that you wanted information about general businesses, cannabis specific instructions, and maybe in the forms of panels, webinars, [and] in person,” she explained. And though “you eliminated the possibility of one-on-one mentoringship, but I think with [Social Equity in Cannabis Program and Contract Manager Brandi Yanez Garcia’s] robust knowledge,” Beason remarked that staff had been able to “to hit all those spots.”
    • Garcia outlined the program’s foundation, mentorship types, and facilitated spaces before taking questions. She further acknowledged program abbreviations for Social Equity Applicants (SEAs) and their required Social Equity Plan (SEP, audio - 10m, video
      • Technical Assistance Module - What Garcia called a “baseline for the whole thing,” the information in the module was both SEA- and cannabis-specific while having the “potential to add additional content from our mentors.” She said this was a way to account for” possible “limitations in the number of mentees” which could be served by the module and make it available anywhere in Washington “where there’s an internet connection.” Regardless of whether “someone is accepted as a mentee,” Garcia commented that they’d “have access to this system” giving them “the chance to build something that they may be able to use if they apply to LCB.” After the module was open, she said it would “remain open on an ongoing basis throughout the year, so people will still be able to work on it, but at their own pace.” According to Garcia, the program allowed for individuals who “can’t attend a mentor’s workshop, or a field trip, whatever the learning experience that mentor provides look like” and provided “for a wider audience afterwards.” The module taught participants about the basics of business development, sales and marketing, as well as capital and finance information, she indicated.
      • Mentorship Paths - Garcia went over three paths for SEAs to use a “task force recommendations list” which would be covered by up to 30 mentors, though that depended upon “how many proposals we receive.” Mentors would provide “their services across a six-month timeframe from January to June” of 2023, she mentioned, reviewing the difference between Topic Specialist Mentors and Cannabis Business Mentors.
        • Topic Specialist Mentors included professionals such as lawyers that “dealt with cannabis issues,” and security or accounting professionals with “in-depth” cannabis knowledge. Aside from mentoring for SEAs, mentors would carry some professional certification and make their office hours available to SEAs to “ask questions.”
        • Cannabis Business Mentors possessed knowledge of “day-to-day operations of a cannabis-specific business” licensed for Washington retail, production, or processing. These “generalists” would interact with SEAs one-on-one and during weekly or monthly meetings of small groups.
        • Facilitated Mentor/Mentee Events would begin in January 2023 and could be set up by the mentor, organizing fellow mentors and SEAs to “convene for in-person or hybrid style events.” The intent was to “foster relationships and hands-on, or in-person, learning” and mentors would collaborate afterwards to “decide which mentees will be grouped with them.” Mentors would set their own curriculum, designing material and events “that make sense to them, with the inclusion of these basic outcomes, or like mentor feedback and requests, if needed,” she indicated 
      • Mentor selection by WA Commerce staff would be done “through an open application process” with some criteria still being finalized, stated Garcia. Because the group might be smaller than the “total number of potential” SEAs, she acknowledged this could limit the time mentors had for individual applicants, which was why WA Commerce officials were requesting mentors “provide learning experiences in addition to any mentorship” so that SEAs “who aren’t selected as mentees may still have access to that same information.” All SEAs would get access to “the modules, the mentor content, and then the office hours” for Topic Specialist Mentors, Garcia relayed, while selected mentees would have the same access but be “prioritized for” mentor content, office hours, or one-on-one and group mentorship events.
      • As for outreach about the program, Garcia told the task force there’d be a press release from WA Commerce “as soon as” a request for proposals (RFP) for the mentorship program “goes live.” As for finding prospective mentors, she reported that officials planned to use community reinvestment organization survey results from the task force to “send out information to become a vendor.” Garcia remarked that they’d contact area “cannabis associations” and other community groups to identify “wider groups of individuals that may have the kind of expertise we’re looking for to support” SEAs and mentees with knowledge on areas like “re-entry, legal services, even social equity consultants.”
      • Garcia thanked WA SECTF members for “providing your notes and recommendations” as they’d helped staff “to build what we have.”
    • Morgan thought the presentation “was really intense" and had covered “a lot of levels” of what WA Commerce staff were doing (audio - <1m, video). 
    • King wanted to know how “are the mentors paid?” Beason said WA Commerce would be disbursing a grant “to the mentors and hopefully to the mentees, we’re trying to figure that out, but it’s because…they’re giving us a service and a deliverable” (audio - 1m, video). 
      • Morgan sought to understand what “pot of money” the department had for compensation, if it was part of the funds approved by lawmakers in 2021 for TA and mentorship and “tuition assistance” to SEAs. Beason stated that there wasn’t tuition assistance as a use for the money, but that the approved budget was going towards "technical assistance programming and for a roster of mentors." She followed up to say funds had only been approved for “this year and the upcoming two years” (audio - 1m, video).  
    • Morgan felt the program sounded “robust, intense…it feels like a lot of moving parts” and she wanted to know if there was a pilot program. Beason responded that a “small pilot” or cohort was being organized, and that they had spoken with counterparts in “Colorado and Oakland, because they have used the module system,” hoping to learn from “their failures and successes.” While their efforts were less than a year old, Beason found the data of “who signed up for the modules” and if they then “applied for the mentor” would help them determine success rates for the SEAs who participated in the program. “I feel like we’ve got this, but we’ll see,” she concluded, “you never know” (audio - 2m, video). 
    • Makoso asked whether SEAs were required to go through any portion of the program to apply for a license. Beason made clear that WA Commerce officials weren’t part of the licensing process for WSLCB, but had worked with that agency to know “what are their requirements, and what are they looking for,” particularly for applicants that had “successful licenses already, and maybe are trying to get a second one, we’ve heard about that, too.” The WA Commerce program wasn’t required but could provide useful information, including “how to develop relationships” in the cannabis sector, she noted (audio - 1m, video) .
    • Makoso understood that WSLCB leadership would be announcing “guidance” on “the existing social equity…licenses that are eligible.” He asked if there was a timeframe for WA Commerce staff to “launch” their program, or if timing was dependent upon WSLCB. Beason answered that the department’s timeline was centered around including all WA SECTF recommendations, though she knew that “you guys have waited so long.” They were coordinating with WSLCB staff, but she reiterated their intention was for the licensing application window to be opened “when they launch” the program. She explicitly was “not going to promise anything cause there is all type of rogue-ness going on in government sometimes, but I am saying that we are coordinating” with their leadership (audio - 2m, video).
    • Morgan claimed that the $200 million "that we got appropriated" for community reinvestment had been due to the “task force’s recommendation.” She then remarked that the Community Reinvestment Work Group had identified “those very people that we were thinking of when we first started out this work.” Now, “instead of just always going to the status quo pool of who has engaged with state government, or not,” Morgan believed the WA SECTF list would be more representative of groups in “each of our communities” to engage at “all different levels” of cannabis work. Speaking to previous recommendations in HB 2022, which failed to pass during the legislative session, Morgan said “more work definitely needs to be done" but "hope is still alive" with “more sessions to go” there were still chances to get “more of the things that we want to be in the social equity space in cannabis” (audio - 2m, video).
    • Slaughter conveyed a question from the public about whether the entirety of the program was limited to SEAs and equity licensees. Beason replied that “some of the [online modules] will be available to general people” for free, however topic specialists and mentorship activities would “have limitations” to SEAs and equity licensees (audio - 1m, video).
  • As the meeting was ready to conclude, Joe Solorio, an appointee for “a labor organization involved in the cannabis industry,” alleged anti-worker behavior by a Seattle cannabis retailer and suggested their license could be forfeited for reissuance to an equity business (audio - 3m, video).
    • Solorio, a member of UFCW 3000—formerly UFCW 21—who had rarely spoken up at WA SECTF meetings, said that in “July of 2021, the workers at the Ponder Cannabis Shop” had “filed for an election with” the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and voted “unanimously to join” UFCW 3000. Over “the last 11 months,” the license holder had “engaged in unlawful termination of employees, resulting in compliance issues by the NLRB, delay tactics” and “frequent threats,” including the termination of all employees “effective June 30th.” He passed on claims he’d heard that the owner would “sit on the license for up to nine months” and sell the license and property through “a separate” limited liability company (LLC). Solorio was concerned that these “attempts to break the union” were negatively impacting area workers.
      • Learn more from the NLRB Ponder Case Page. An NLRB document on election reports for September 2021 showed some specifics of the election held in August 2021:
        • Region - 19, 19 ANC, 36
        • Case Number - 19-RC-279443
        • Case Name - Ponder LLC
        • Case Type - RC
        • Dispute Unit City/State - Seattle, WA
        • Election Held Date - August 11, 2021
        • Number of Eligible Voters - 8
        • Valid Votes Against - 0
        • Votes for Labor Organization - 5
        • Labor Organization Name - United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 21
        • Stipulated/Consent/Directed - Stipulated
        • Certification of Representative -  Won
        • Closed Date - September 14, 2021
        • Closed Reason - Certification of Representative
    • Morgan interrupted to express her sense that it wasn’t appropriate to discuss “a union matter” absent a clear relation to “our recommendations in making sure that licenses are given out.” Solorio argued that there was a connection because “if Ponder Cannabis ceases to sell licensed cannabis products over 30 days without legal justification or support, UFCW 3000 seeks to consider the license currently assigned to Ponder LLC as forfeited if the board determines legal criteria are met and implore the LCB to consider reserving” that license for social equity purposes. Morgan still found it to be “an LCB issue” outside the scope of their work to see that “the cannabis industry is equitable,” telling Solorio ”good luck.” He respected Morgan’s interpretation of their purpose, and was grateful for a chance to “at least get it out there.”
      • On February 16th and March 2nd, Ponder Cannabis budtender Cody Funderberk spoke to Seattle officials about employee efforts to unionize and the resistance they faced, including a need to “strengthen successorship laws so that in the event of a change of owners, our rights as workers'' would be safeguarded.
      • Read a March 17th article on how Cannabis Workers Make Retail Sector a New Union Haven.
  • The next steps for the task force included recommendations by two work groups ahead of a final report to lawmakers due on December 9th.

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