WSLCB - Board Meeting
(July 5, 2023) - General Public Comments

2023-07-05 - WSLCB - Board Meeting - Takeaways

Public commenters called for greater accountability over the social equity program third-party vendor, the board’s reasoning in hiring a new director, and an update on CANNRA meetings.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday July 5th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Board Meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Members of Black Excellence in Cannabis (BEC) raised issues with the way Ponder Diversity Group (PDG) was managing social equity program application scoring.
    • Mike Asai, BEC Vice President (audio - 4m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
      • BEC members were speaking up because they “have some concerns with Ponder,” said Asai, since it was “brought to our attention in the past week that people have uploaded their documents over a month ago and Ponder has replied saying that basically, that they haven't.” Applicants reported submitting the documents only to be told by PDG staff they still were “not on the Cure account,” he stated. As an applicant, Asai felt he and others were “being very patient during this process, but for a lot of people…it really could be frustrating.” He noted they were raising the issue on behalf of a wider community that could be “really intimidated to speak at board meetings and to speak to agencies…so that's what we're here for.”
      • Asai also mentioned incoming agency director Will Lukela, sharing that BEC members were "very excited to leadership.” He wanted to give Lukela a chance to succeed in the role, observing he hadn’t been a part of past legalization and regulatory efforts. Asai concluded, “whatever he's done in Denver, that's in Colorado…the new director has our full support at this moment.”
      • Asai last addressed the board on June 1st. He petitioned for a specific change to the points awarded through the social equity scoring rubric for applicants on May 2nd. Although the board denied Asai’s petition on June 5th, they noted his suggested change was germane to the rulemaking project to implement SB 5080—a bill expanding and modifying the equity program—and might be considered there.
    • Peter Manning, BEC Co-Founder (audio - 4m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
      • Manning established that BEC had sent the board a letter about the issues with PDG mentioned by Asai. He read from the letter, which included a statement that BEC leadership believed board members were “not racist individuals, and do not harbor ill intent towards our community,” but that he’d perceived “racism or potential discrimination within the LCB” prior to current board members’ tenure. 
      • Manning felt there were “genuine efforts towards fostering a more equitable industry,” and he wanted to be “cautious about making assumptions without a complete understanding of the facts.” However, there’d been “criticism coming from a particular group, and while I respect different viewpoints I find their attacks on individuals within our community troubling,” he remarked. “It is essential to approach these disagreements constructively,” Manning added, saying Lukela specifically needed a chance to “contribute to our cause before making judgments.” He hoped people would “stand together supporting and uplifting one another as we continue to fight for this inclusive industry.”
    • Damien Mims, BEC Executive Treasurer (audio - 2m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
      • Mims’ and Manning's most recent public comments were on June 7th.
      • Mims commented that he was among those experiencing difficulties getting supporting documentation uploaded for his retail license application. He and “other applicants are struggling [to] find a way to communicate with Ponder. I received multiple pages of corrections on a Sunday, at 5pm, which was in the middle of what I consider a four day weekend. Why not wait until Wednesday morning to start the 14-day deadline?” He continued, mentioning how he “received requests for Cure saying ‘documents were not received,’ which is simply not true,” yet he had “no way to contact…Ponder to make this right.” Mims insisted that he’d spoken to a “multitude of other applicants” encountering the same problems, and that contacting PDG staff was a continuing challenge.
      • “I understand things need to be done in writing, but there should be a…means of communication that make this process move for the Black and Brown people” that Mims noted were “struggling to squeeze…our way into this multi-million dollar industry that we have been previously shut out of, and even incarcerated for in the past.” He wanted more attention for the applicants “struggling to get this done correctly, [but] not getting any help to make that happen.”
  • Commenters brought up improvements to the Cannabis Central Reporting System (CCRS) and questioned what “compelling reasons” the board had when hiring a new agency director out of Colorado.
    • David Busby, OpenTHC CEO (audio - 1m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
      • After congratulating former director Rick Garza, Busby thanked WSLCB staff because approximately a “month ago…y'all fixed the CCRS so that the email message was coming back with the…same exact file name that I submitted which was very handy.”
      • Later on the same day that Busby spoke, WSLCB staff announced an outage of the CCRS system:
        • Update July 5, 2023: CCRS is currently experiencing an outage. LCB ITS is aware and working with WaTech to identify and resolve the issue, which appears to be a problem with SAW authentication. We thank you for your patience.”
        • The problem was repaired the same day.
    • Christopher King (audio - 3m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
      • King’s last remarks to board members were on June 7th.
      • King returned to the “line of inquiry that I was making [June 7th], which relates to” Lukela’s hiring as WSLCB Director, and “what the compelling interest were, or are, in his successful candidacy.” He cited a 2022 Westword opinion piece, Colorado's Social Equity Marijuana Rules Serve Big Business by Color of Cannabis Owner Sarah Woodson, as evidence that Colorado equity policies had “the same problems” as Washington. King pointed to Westword reporting on how Colorado lawmakers had been considering changing their program, and that retail businesses in the City of Denver showed little participation in cannabis delivery licensing, which only “accounts for less than 0.5% of monthly marijuana sales in Denver.”
      • I want to be a cheerleader. I want to root for you guys” and Lukela, claimed King, “but I need to know…what are the compelling reasons behind his successful candidacy? What are his qualifications to the job? What made you hire him?”
      • Board Chair David Postman referenced board member public statements and the announcement on Lukela’s hiring, calling him “eminently qualified” and “impressive in all his interviews” with WSLCB officials. “Whoever we bring in should be given a chance to show their skills, and we should all try to help a new director be as successful as possible, and not condemn them before they arrive,” Postman responded. King said he’d been a journalist, and after having “research[ed] things and I haven't found things positive. I've only found things that were questionable, or negative,” reiterating, “empirically you guys have not given me anything to deal with” (audio - 2m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).
  • Cannabis Observer Founder Gregory Foster talked about staffing changes and asked for a public update on a recent closed-door Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) meeting (audio - 4m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB, written comments).
    • Foster began by praising Research Manager Kathy Hoffman, noting the staffing changes underway for the Policy and Rules team, and thanked her for “all of her hard work over these last few years.” He recognized that Cannabis Observer didn’t observe every state agency, “but I can say that she has created the most public facing engagement program for rulemaking processes that we've seen, and…I think that's impressive.” Foster was optimistic about the odds Hoffman could bring similar innovations to research efforts at WSLCB, “and maybe even public engagement in the research process.” He also congratulated the new Policy and Rules Manager, Cassidy West, who faced “big shoes to fill and a backlog of rulemaking to take on,” before asking about the status of Policy and Rules Coordinator Jeff Kildahl. “We haven't seen him in any public meetings for several months, and it's my understanding from the job description for the manager role that there's supposed to be three Policy and Rules Coordinators that are reporting to that role.”
    • Lastly, Foster brought up a CANNRA External Stakeholder meeting in Maryland “last week Monday and Tuesday,” and was confident WSLCB staff participated. “We appreciate the gestures that CANNRA has been making towards increased transparency,” he told board members, pointing to an “agenda on their website, and some additional meeting details.” Foster noted new members and leadership in the group, stating he thought the public would “appreciate an update from the staff who participated, maybe at the EMT [executive management team] meeting next week.” He had the impression that participating stakeholder groups “pay a fee to participate in the CANNRA meetings, and I hope that those funds” were both, “paying for the existing staffing” and potentially hiring more CANNRA staff as “it's been my understanding that some of the LCB staffhave had to volunteer public time to assist this private organization.” Regulatory associations weren’t uncommon, Foster added, yet “we only get so much insight into the kind of policy discussions that are happening…and the kind of efforts that are being taken around the country…to move cannabis policymaking.”
    • Postman confirmed there would be a CANNRA meeting update during the July 12th EMT, adding that, at the urging of Board Member Jim Vollendroff, “whenever staff is at these sorts of things we've asked for a, a briefing [to] hear what they've heard there” (audio - <1m, Video - TVW, Video - WSLCB).

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