WA Senate LBRC - Work Session
(September 28, 2020) - Criminal Activity

Senators requested and received a brief update from WSLCB on “criminal activity” which we elaborate on to describe the agency’s enforcement actions and participation in drug task forces.

Here are some observations from the Monday September 28th Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee (WA Senate LBRC) work session.

  • Chief Justin Nordhorn briefly described the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Enforcement and Education Division’s dedication of resources towards the prevention of crime (audio - 3m).
    • Nordhorn had been WSLCB’s Enforcement Chief for the agency’s entire tenure as cannabis regulators, but on September 16th Deputy Director Megan Duffy revealed he would be transitioning to a new role as Policy and External Affairs Director of the agency.
    • Nordhorn said WSLCB assisted “local law enforcement when we’re requested.” The agency also collaborated with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) on “a task force for illicit grows” in addition to “a regional drug task force in Thurston County.” These partnerships led to Enforcement officer participation in “seizures for illicit activity in those particular areas.” Nordhorn said most seizures where WSLCB was involved were “emergency suspensions, and we’ve also had...a small number of seizures based on assisting other agencies that needed that help.”
      • WSP received over $5.2 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for a drug enforcement task force according to the state’s supplemental budget. Some funding was provided “solely for a case management system to serve as a repository for all information regarding criminal cases.” However, the vast majority of the money was “provided solely for the Washington state patrol to partner with multi-jurisdictional drug and gang task forces to detect, deter, and dismantle criminal organizations involved in criminal activity including diversion of marijuana from the legalized market and the illicit production and distribution of marijuana and marijuana related products in Washington state.”
      • WSLCB Enforcement’s level of participation in drug task forces remained acknowledged but largely opaque. The agency did not address them in the Enforcement portion of their 2019 fiscal year report, though they did acknowledge agency communications staff working with the Northwest High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA) Prevention and Treatment Advisory Group. HITDA was a federal program to “coordinate federal, state and local anti-drug abuse efforts from a local, regional and national perspective leveraging resources at all levels.” NW HIDTA has also partnered with the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (UW ADAI) to host an informational website.
      • Enforcement leadership has produced weekly bulletins for staff since the beginning of 2019 which feature cannabis investigatory actions and descriptions of assistance to local law enforcement. Examples from early 2019 include:
        • January 2019: An Enforcement lieutenant and officer met with members of the WSP’s marijuana task force and the Richland Police Department “to discuss how each agency could help each other with cases involving the illegal manufacture and distribution of marijuana.”
        • April 2019: WSLCB officers ‘participated in a [Target Zero]/DUI Task Force – Home Safe Bar “420” emphasis patrol in the Pierce County area.’
        • May 2019: Enforcement officers “were on-hand to provide technical advice on licensed, unlicensed and medical MJ expertise” to the Skagit County Drug Task Force targeting an unlicensed cannabis seller.
        • June 2019: WSLCB agents served a search warrant on “a former marijuana licensee in Sequim” without noting the involvement of other law enforcement agencies.
    • Nordhord said there were “other types of seizures that we end up doing...sometimes licensees will request our assistance. They may have a number, an amount of product that they’re not very effective in destruction and we’ll actually provide that service to them and say ‘if you want to forfeit that product over, we’ll go ahead and take it and destroy it for you.’” He told committee members this benefited the state by “mak[ing] sure that the product...is not getting into an illicit market area” and so the attitude of the Enforcement division was “if we can make that easy for licensees on that transition, we will.”
    • Nordhorn pointed out that COVID-19 had slowed Enforcement compliance and premises checks; seizures and destruction events; and how many administrative violation notices (AVNs) or warnings were issued compared with the same period a year earlier. He stated that seizures were “way down...we’re not taking, as a forthcoming approach on the traceability issues and licensees.” He continued, “you’ll see a considerable drop in the amount of seizures where we see untraceable product” as officers instead guided producers on “how to tag, let’s teach you how to get this into the system versus just taking that more enforcement-edged approach.” Nordhorn summarized that staff time invested in “our education is up.”
      • Nordhorn provided a status update on the agency’s enforcement reforms on September 16th. He spoke of building an “education theme” into many internal policies, which he felt was becoming a “pretty underlying expectation in all the policies that we have.”
  • Since taking on regulation of legal cannabis following the passage of I-502 in 2012, WSLCB was expected to enforce licensed business compliance and more generally enforce cannabis laws in Washington’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act (UCSA).

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