WSLCB - Executive Management Team Meeting
(September 16, 2020) - Enforcement Review

Director Rick Garza and Enforcement Chief Justin Nordhorn brought WSLCB’s Executive Management Team (EMT) up to speed on the agency’s enforcement reforms and responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • WSLCB’s enforcement practices had been undergoing change since early 2019 with the passage of SB 5318 which reformed “compliance and enforcement provisions” following complaints about uneven and overzealous policing.
    • WSLCB Enforcement and Education staff sought to implement recommendations from an independent review of their enforcement practices by consulting firm Hillard Heintze (H&H) completed in December 2019.
      • Garza briefed lawmakers on WSLCB’s progress on January 20th, noting the independent review was “positive, and not just problematic,” and that the agency would implement changes “between the next zero to six months.” However, since that time the State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of WSLCB’s operations and led to a slew of modified and/or temporary guidelines for licensees.
      • Nordhorn led two webinars about the COVID-19 related changes on April 13th and May 21st.
      • Garza mentioned temporary enforcement practices during remarks to The Cannabis Alliance on July 9th.
    • SB 5318 also mandated the agency provide a “voluntary compliance program” which at publication time remained under development (Rulemaking Project), most recently receiving a public hearing at the September 16th board meeting.
  • Garza briefed the EMT on "where we are today" in relation to H&H’s recommendations (audio - 8m).
    •  He said the report’s 18 recommendations emphasized three “themes”:
      • “Interpretations of agency decisions, rules, policies, are inconsistently communicated” among both enforcement staff and “the regulated community.”
      • “A lack of transparency and understanding by stakeholders about agency decisions and interpretations.”
      • “There needed to be stronger outreach, communication, education, collaboration with the industry to help them understand and comply.”
    • Overall, Garza felt “LCB welcomed and accepted” the report and recommendations and that “nothing in the report...came as too much of a surprise.”
      • He noted that a Cannabis Penalties rulemaking project was already underway by the time H&H suggested it. Revised penalties were adopted by the Board on January 22nd
      • Enforcement “re-organized its advised policy procedures and developed expertise” while the WSLCB Licensing Division “implemented dozens of collaborative actions in 2019 to increase communication and effectiveness” with Enforcement.
      • Garza said “a lot of effort” enabled the agency to better “collaborate and communicate with the industries that we regulate, even before we had” H&H’s report.
    • Garza described how a small team "dug in early" to begin implementing reforms using the report’s suggested timeline. He explained, “we had a number of items that we wanted to concentrate on in the first six months of the announcement” of the report’s completion before progress was hampered by the pandemic. Nonetheless, “considerable progress” had been made, he said.
    • Changes in the Director’s Office were described by Deputy Director Megan Duffy during earlier comments (audio - 3m), including a new director-level position Nordhorn would transition into. Garza stated the new role would help evolve WSLCB’s COVID Legal/Policy/Rules team which had been meeting often to respond “within the hours rather than sometimes what may take weeks.” The team structure addressed certain H&H recommendations such as “interpretation of agency decisions, lack of transparency and understanding by stakeholders, and the need for more communication.” Policy and Rules Manager Kathy Hoffman and her staff would soon be combining with some COVID Legal/Policy/Rules team members to form an “outreach team” tasked with working “collaboratively with our industry.”
    • Garza and Director of Communications Brian Smith provided board members with a document outlining recommendations from the report, “what we implemented in our plan for that recommendation,” and their present “status.”
  • Nordhorn walked the EMT through Hillard Heintze’s recommendations and what had resulted from them (audio - 12m). 
    • Nordhorn noted WSLCB had “engaged in that contract with the consultant on an ongoing basis” which featured follow ups, providing documents for review, and “bouncing ideas off of them” - a process that was “working out very well.”
    • Policy Review
      • Nordhorn said 60 policies had been updated with “verbiage changes” while another “five or six” remained under discussion. Enforcement added an “education theme” to many internal policies, which Nordhorn called a “pretty underlying expectation in all the policies that we have.”
      • Changes to some policies were “still in bargaining” with Enforcement staff unions. In particular, the job descriptions for commissioned and non-commissioned staff were being debated, though Nordhorn emphasized that "education is highly represented in both of those particular approaches." Both commissioned/non-commissioned staff will "be on the same team reporting to a Lieutenant" to ensure that “all of the information being provided” would stay consistent.
      • Nordhorn said there were "equipment purchases underway" for firearms to be carried in a less “visible fashion” for a “softer approach” to officers' uniforms. Union representatives had been concerned about whether Enforcement would maintain the “same level of safety equipment,” a concern which agency staff were “working through.”
      • WSLCB’s internal affairs policy was being finalized with H&H inclusive of Director of Human Resources Claris Nnanabu’s staff as it would be “an agency policy” not limited to the Enforcement Division. Nordhorn expected final internal affairs changes representing “a lot of work” would be presented to the agency’s Management Team soon.
      • The agency’s Enforcement Notebook (EN) software had been upgraded for “capturing more education work, hours put towards education” which was incorporated into “result sessions for the [Enforcement] regions.” Regional offices were also being asked to “provide strategies on how to gain compliance through education.” Nordhorn felt WSLCB’s system modernization project (SMP) would further help this effort.
    • Internal Training and Communication
      • Enforcement Officer training manuals had been revised in collaboration with H&H, whom Nordhorn said had “basically signed off” on the changes. Manuals had been split into “one for the teacher, one for the learner, so we can make sure that both those areas are covered fully.”
      • Nordhorn said a “video training series” was being created to teach staff "laws and rules" uniformly. Approximately 45 videos had been created and would encourage officers to focus on “building a relationship with licensees and fostering trust.”
      • Enforcement had “a number of issues going on with the communications” such as “monthly WebExes” and “weekly bulletins to staff” to reinforce officer education.
        • See recent Enforcement Division Weekly Bulletins, some of which feature sections “Training Corner” and “Re-Organization 2.0”:
    • External Communication and Engagement
      • A survey sent to stakeholders on August 12th procured “over 600 responses” from licensees, according to Nordhorn. He said the outreach work would “create some understanding and awareness” for Enforcement staff on “how the industry operates” after staff organized and coded the information “into the training plan.”
      • Nordhorn said changes to WSLCB’s website permitted people to “file a complaint, or if you want to provide a compliment” in a clear, user friendly format. He then highlighted agency outreach using videos developed by Smith, part of Nordhorn’s upcoming role with WSLCB.
  • During his “around the table” update, Nordhorn discussed Enforcement operations throughout the pandemic and coordination with other state agencies (audio - 4m).
    • Washington’s response to COVID-19 was managed through a Joint Information Center (JIC) at the Washington State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Camp Murray. Nordhorn explained that of 59,000 complaints the EOC received “since mid-March,” 7,300 had been referred to WSLCB. Once adjusted for duplicative complaints, Nordhorn reported that Enforcement “tackled about 5,700 complaints” with the majority being “mask related, or social distancing related.” He praised most licensees, saying the agency had only issued “about 235” corrective actions, including verbal warnings, and written 11 tickets since mid-March. Nordhorn described licensees generally as “coming into compliance, which is just great.”
    • Nordhorn relayed that interagency meetings between WSLCB, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) furthered collaboration “and consistent messaging.”
    • WSLCB staff were participating in weekly meetings with theWashington Hospitality Association (WHA) to develop guidance for alcohol licensees. And WHA partnered with the Governor’s office, DOH, and WSLCB on an initiative called “Target Zero” aiming to avoid outbreaks in bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. Nordhorn added that staff continued to liaise with local health jurisdictions as well.

Information Set