The Board approved draft rules which would coordinate public health messaging re: cannabis use during pregnancy and heard testimony suggesting WSLCB resource more important work than chasing after advertising complaints.
Here are some observations from the Wednesday March 6th WSLCB Board Meeting.
My top 3 takeaways:
- The Board approved the CR-102 for rulemaking on Mandatory Marijuana Signage following a presentation from Policy and Rules Coordinator Kathy Hoffman (audio – 4m).
- Hoffman had prepared the Board to approve her request to file the CR-102 during the prior day’s Board Caucus. She discussed the rulemaking with the Board during the January 22nd and February 5th Caucuses.
- Hoffman shared some background about why the changes to WAC 314-55-086 were being sought. Hoffman said the “issue paper, a request for approval to file these rules, and a draft set of rules” responded to packaging and labeling changes which became effective at the beginning of the year and had “relocated [some warnings] to the advertising rules under WAC 314-55-155” while eliminating others. Hoffman said WAC 314-55-086 needed updating to allow “LCB to coordinate with other public health agencies, such as the Department of Health (DOH), to assure public health messaging regarding use of marijuana during pregnancy is coordinated, consistent, and clear.”
- Hoffman told the Board the rules supported the agency’s public health and safety goals, “and additionally, the proposal won’t result in any increased cost or administrative burden to the regulated community.”
- Board Member Russ Hauge asked about the warning’s current status: “are we in a hole where there are no warnings about use during pregnancy?” Hoffman answered that there were warnings in place in 314-55-086 but “we can’t coordinate” with DOH.
- Hoffman thanked WSLCB Research Consultant Trecia Ehrlich “for the help she provided in the substantive background statement” of the issue brief.
- The Board approved the request to file the CR-102.
- Hoffman planned to file the CR-102 with the Office of the Code Reviser for publication on March 20th. A public hearing was projected on April 17th, a request for rule adoption on May 1st, and an anticipated effective date four weeks later on June 1st, 2019.
- Find out more about this issue in the shared documents below or amongst all of the agency’s proposed rules.
- During public testimony, cannabis retailer Eric Gaston suggested WSLCB consider relinquishing some authority over advertising signage to local jurisdictions (audio – 5m).
- Gaston, President of Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments (CORE) and a WSLCB Cannabis Advisory Council member, offered that business signage placement, quantity, and size were regulated by many local governments already and that retailers “have a better understanding of how we fit in with our communities.”
- Gaston suggested WSLCB resources could be better applied with a narrower focus on sign and advertising content such as prohibited characters or language as defined in the agency’s recent Packaging and Labeling Rules update.
- Gaston warned Enforcement was expending “significant periods of time” investigating “peer-to-peer” complaints about signage size or quantity, rather than resourcing more important issues such as cannabis diversion or True Parties of Interest (TPI). He referred to the proposed rulemaking regarding pregnancy signage as a worthy focus on public health concerns.
- Gaston said local authorities were set up to address concerns about signage. He referenced the City of Auburn’s zoning rules on signs as evidence cities and counties were capable of managing complaints about placement, quantity, or size of business signage.
- Using his Auburn retail location as an example, Gaston reported occupying an “end cap” venue difficult to see from the street. Current rules left him having to choose between deploying two building signs without any on the street, or street signage but only partial building identification. Gaston felt these were business choices and “having to discuss that is absurd.”
- Gaston said he had encountered Enforcement Officers “frustrated” about having to respond to frequent complaints of this nature.
- Later that day during the Executive Management Team meeting, agency leadership discussed their observations at the Board Meeting (audio – 5m).
- Director of Licensing and Regulation Becky Smith said the change Gaston suggested would have to be made to the cannabis licensee advertising statutes (RCW 69.50.369) and therefore couldn’t be updated by administrative rulemaking. She reported her Deputy, Jeanne McShane, had spoken with Gaston after the meeting to convey this.
- Rushford found Gaston’s comments “meaningful” and Hauge verified the attitude of Nordhorn and others in Enforcement that advertising complaints were a “huge” waste of their time. “That’s absolutely accurate,” Hauge asserted.
- Rushford said Enforcement’s Marijuana Advertising Coordinator Matthew McCallum would soon act as a liaison for the Board: “once he’s available it’ll answer a lot of questions before there are issues.” Board Member Ollie Garrett agreed they could make recommendations following a review of the subject.
- Director Rick Garza reported that when he asked Gaston about CORE member sentiment, Gaston replied some feared local government rules could end up stricter than WSLCB’s. He paraphrased Gaston’s description of retailer attitudes as: “At least I know what I got [locally]; even if I don’t like it.” Garza advised that there had been legislation dealing with advertising such as HB 1466 and SB 5969, and suggested retailers could push for changes.
- Hauge asked if local governments could regulate signage now. Garza confirmed they could “but they do it differently.”
- When Garrett reminded them about the costs for enforcement, Garza said many complaints started with neighboring licensees fearful competitors were gaining advantages by skirting advertising limits. Hauge said he’d heard similar concerns.