WSLCB - Cannabis Advisory Council
(January 6, 2021) - 2021 Legislative Session

Washington State Capitol - Road Closed

Goals for the 2021 Washington state legislative session, which begins Monday January 11th, were articulated by WSLCB agency leadership and Cannabis Advisory Council members.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday January 6th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Cannabis Advisory Council (CAC) meeting.

  • Director Rick Garza described an improving budget situation for the agency in the next biennium and Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson provided the WSLCB legislative agenda for 2021.
    • Garza, who briefly addressed the agency’s funding earlier that week, explained the WSLCB had submitted “our ask” to Governor Jay Inslee and the full amount was included in the Governor’s 2021-23 biennium budget proposal. He said usually the agency sought “enhancements to our programs. We learn that we need more help here, or we need help over here in Licensing or Enforcement or in budget,” and “decision packages” were submitted to the Governor’s staff. “Well, guess what folks,” Garza stated, “with the [coronavirus] pandemic, we had the reverse occur” and the Washington State Office of Financial Management (WA OFM, “the Governor’s budget office”) issued Operating Budget Instructions for boards and commissions “to cut 15% of their budget.” He said that process happened and “obviously because Licensing and Enforcement are our largest divisions that’s where a lot of the cuts would’ve occurred.” Garza explained that the agency had been spared those cuts due to an “increase with respect to revenue” projected by the State. “What was anticipated to be a billion dollar hole ended up not being anywhere near that,” he noted. As a result, WSLCB was one of the State agencies which Garza said incurred no “reduction in our budget at all” which would aid the agency’s “duty as a regulator” (audio - 3m).
    • Thompson laid out the agency’s minimized agenda for the year which would focus on a single alcohol agency request bill while helping ensure previously approved social equity grant funds weren’t lost (audio - 4m).
      • Thompson said the “formal agenda the LCB anticipates going into the 2021 session with is limited to one likely agency request bill” dealing with alcohol and having “no impact or implications at all for the cannabis industry.”
        • Curious about the request bill, Hirschburg asked whether it would make any temporary alcohol allowances permanent to which Thompson said it would provide a “temporary extension” to “some allowances.” Hirschburg then asked who requested the agency put forward a bill, and Thompson replied that “the Governor’s office asked us to work on this” (audio - 1m).
        • Thompson described the development of the request bill at the December 2020 Alcohol Advisory Council meeting.
        • During an August 2020 board meeting, a representative of Prevention Voices, a relatively new education and advocacy coalition, told the Board its members had concerns about “loosening of the regulations” in response to the pandemic. A slide presented during the coalition’s Pre-Session Summit on January 7th stated their policy priority for 2021: “Prevent the LCB Temporary Allowances due to COVID-19 from becoming permanent.”
      • Thompson said one budget issue involving the agency would be addressed “related to the social equity program.”
        • He elaborated that due to the delayed start of the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis, “efforts to stand up the social equity program have been significantly delayed.” According to Thompson, agency staff raised concerns with the Governor’s Office and WA OFM at a “very late stage of the budget development program” that an appropriation of $1.1 million for the technical assistance grant program in the enacting law could be lost as “there was a good likelihood that those funds would not be able to be awarded prior to the end of the fiscal year.”
        • To avoid a “loss of funds to the program,” WSLCB staff reached out to the Governor’s office and the Washington State Department of Commerce which managed the money’s disbursement under law. They discussed delays in task force guidance to the WSLCB “on how to structure this program.” Thompson relayed that WSLCB asked that the Governor’s budget include “an effort to try and recapture those funds for this program out into the next biennium” and this was added into the final proposal with “half into each fiscal year.” He said this was one way Governor Inslee was “showing that his support and his emphasis in the budget on diversity, equity, and inclusion has extended to this social equity in cannabis program.” This would allow the grant money to be used when WSLCB and Commerce implement “the guidance from the task force,” Thompson added.
        • Sardinas floated the idea of issuing the funds to current minority cannabis licensees during the December 2020 social equity task force meeting (audio - 1m).
  • Industry, consumer, and patient representatives to the Council described their priorities for the year ahead.
    • Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA). Davies reported that WACA’s legislative agenda was posted online. She was grateful to hear from staff about reforms underway at the agency, particularly around enforcement reform. Davies said the group’s priority was to “make space for the social equity conversation to take place and be helpful where we can,” and as a result WACA wouldn’t “be bringing any legislation forward this year.” Regardless, they would remain focused on regulatory activity “including, you know, continuing to make sure that the traceability system is working properly” (audio - 2m, written comments).
    • The Cannabis Alliance. Ryan said she appreciated hearing the “broad support within the industry” and “without” regarding the “patient excise tax bill,” SB 5004. She encouraged the Council to support the legislation, which would remove the 37% excise tax for patients registered with the State. Ryan said the “full support” of the Alliance was behind HB 1019, a bill to allow adult home growing of cannabis, noting “we hope this is the last year we’ll have to hear it.” Another effort would focus on “expanding our expungement bill that passed a couple of years ago to provide resources for that information to actually get out to people who are affected.” Ryan then said the Alliance was also pushing to have the term ‘marijuana’ removed from the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and replaced with ‘cannabis,’ as well as “other small equity changes” (audio - 6m).
    • Washington SunGrowers Industry Association (WSIA). Moberg painted a picture of unchecked overproduction in the legal market, and wanted to hear WSLCB articulate “a way to manage how hemp and [cannabidiol] CBD products are coming into this industry.” He viewed overproduction of canopy as having implications for “prevention, to enforcement, to just, to social diversity and to conglomeration in this marketplace.” Moberg was “excited for social equity solutions to be implemented” but worried “for people to come in right now” unless changes were “coupled with some sort of control” of production canopy (audio - 7m).
      • See the WSLCB year 2 canopy report created in June 2020. It’s Cannabis Observer’s understanding that the WSLCB canopy measurement team was disbanded after issuance of this report.
    • Craft Cannabis Coalition (CCC). Monroe reported that the CCC didn’t have “any particular legislation that we’re driving, we certainly want to participate in conversations around social equity.” She then mentioned how the federal MORE Act, a decriminalization bill passed by the House during the previous Congress, should encourage consideration of “the impact of...competing on a national scale” and how Washington state cannabis law and regulation could “get in the way of us competing successfully.” Monroe wanted to see lawmakers and the agency considering what “we need to be doing to prepare for the competition on a national level” (audio - 2m).
      • The WSLCB became a charter member of the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) in November 2020, a “non-partisan organization...created in order to assist federal, state, and local jurisdictions that have approved or are weighing legalization of cannabis.” At publication time, WSLCB Director Rick Garza was the First Vice President of CANNRA.
      • The association’s Special Committees include a “Special Committee on Federal Policy and Engagement” and a “Special Committee on Interstate Coordination.”
      • The formation of CANNRA was preceded by and emerged from the Regulators Roundtable events. Cannabis Observer recently obtained the agenda from the last meeting of the Roundtable in August 2020.
    • Consumer Representative. Hirschburg urged those in attendance to “support home grow, I don’t believe it's making any requests of the agency,” and to back “the patient excise tax” legislation. He called on WSLCB to update their adult education and safety webpages for cannabis, “especially around poly-drug use.” Hirschburg also noted there wasn’t “tobacco education on the LCB’s website” as compared to the agency’s cannabis education resources. “I know there’s State resources around tobacco and tobacco health,” he pointed out, but “they don’t seem to be a part of the LCB’s purview. That seems peculiar to me” (audio - 1m, written comments).
    • Patient Representative. Barfield stated that “one of the things coming out about the social equity task force is how big of a disaster 5052 was...and that includes patients” (audio - 3m).
      • His observations since the passage of SB 5052---2015 legislation merging the medical and recreational markets---prompted Barfield to ask “who in the state government is actually standing up for patients.” All of the patients Barfield knew had at least one “debilitating condition” to qualify as medical cannabis patients, which he indicated impeded their capacity to engage with the State. He advised establishing advocates in government to help patients engage around “better access to cannabis and [to] make the system better.”
      • Barfield was supportive of removing the patient excise tax since Washington “is the only state in the entire country” to tax patients, and he wanted an increase in the number of plants patients can grow under the law. “You need to let patients grow six plants or pass home grows,” Barfield said.
      • Barfield believed further RCW changes were needed as “the number two thing that a police officer stops you for in this state is cannabis” because the plant was still treated as “probable cause.”
      • His last suggestion was to “fix the co-op[erative] system,” specifically a “silly rule that you can’t be a mile from a retail shop” and requiring patient co-ops “to be at a home” which could be prohibited by local zoning. Barfield said he had offers from licensed producers to have his co-op move to their farm, adding that collaborative medical grows were common policy and “not controversial. They are world class.”
      • Barfield was invited to testify about cannabis patient needs during a November 2020 legislative work session.

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