WSLCB - Executive Management Team
(November 9, 2022) - Summary

WSLCB EMT - Medical Cannabis - Social Equity - Election Results - CCRS

Agency leaders met the new Director of Legislative Relations then heard reports on their legislative agenda, social equity, medical endorsements, hiring, work groups, and CCRS.

Here are some observations from the Wednesday November 9th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Executive Management Team (EMT) meeting.

My top 5 takeaways:

  • Outbound Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson introduced his successor Marc Webster before touching on agency request legislation, a briefing scheduled for lawmakers, and why he viewed the 2022 midterms as a "status quo" election for the Washington State Legislature.
  • Board members next learned about progress on social equity mentorships, mapping disproportionately impacted areas (DIAs), education, online engagement with agency equity resources, and an upcoming presentation on the topic.
    • Director of Licensing Becky Smith began with the status of DIAs—mapping of which had delayed the opening of a licensing window for social equity applications—stating that the agency had entered into a contract with the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) “that does our mapping right now” whose staff had begun geocoding relevant conviction data (audio - 4m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • ESRI staff would “also be creating the interactive DIA maps,” which Smith said would let individuals “punch in their…zip code, or an address, and it'll populate to show whether or not those areas, was[sic] a DIA area from the…year that they lived in” a census tract.
      • Smith brought up Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer P.A. (QPWB), a law firm awarded an agency contract to design applications for the social equity program and participate in the vetting process. She felt the company was “moving right along,” having shared copies of the “process that they'll be using, all of the data that they'll be requiring” of applicants. Feedback from WSLCB officials to QPWB focused on “mostly language” differences “like true parties of interest, for instance.”
      • Smith said Make Green Go! had been retained by the Washington State Department of Commerce (WA Commerce) to assist on the mentor roster available to applicants and “make their videos” about the social equity technical assistance grants and mentoring programs. WSLCB Licensing had also recruited the company to create training content and the business’ representatives had provided “outlines for six videos” pertaining to:
        • “Social Equity program overview,
        • Social Equity application process,
        • How to submit an application, 
        • Cannabis laws and rules,
        • How to complete a social equity plan, 
        • Cannabis licensing overview.”
      • Make Green Go! would also participate in setting up “virtual events” along with some WSLCB-hosted “live events.” The goal was for the agency to “reach as many people in the population across Washington state as we can,” she commented.
      • Vollendroff wanted more information on who would be providing the mentoring for applicants. Smith replied that Sarah Davis, WSLCB Program Specialist for Social Equity, was “going through those currently.” She encouraged the board to look at available training and educational resources in addition to the Social Equity Technical Assistance webpage set up by WA Commerce, noting that more than “600 people have applied to view those” trainings (audio - 1m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
    • Smith explained that she’d shared the “most current map” of available equity license allotments with Mike Asai, Emerald City Collective Gardens (ECCG) Co-Founder and Black Excellence in Cannabis (BEC) Vice President, who had complained that accurate information wasn’t being given by agency leaders during the board meeting before the EMT. She assured the board that even if some counties or municipalities weren’t allowing cannabis businesses to be sited, rule changes by WSLCB on October 12th afforded equity businesses a single move to another jurisdiction within a county to “be able to get license[d] in.” Smith expected licensees would have to “go down to that jurisdiction and actually look into what that jurisdiction allows, what that city permits” but she encouraged public feedback on “information they’d like to see” (audio - 2m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • Postman wondered how many of the allotted licenses could be “viable” following the rule change allowing one-time portability. Smith answered that “probably all but four” licenses could operate somewhere. Postman suggested a revised map showing any licenses still without jurisdictions in the county allowing them to operate, which would show “there's a lot more movement than there could have been before” (audio - 3m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
    • Director of Communications Brian Smith went over “analytics” of the agency website views, stating that for “social equity stuff…that was the 31st out of about 350 some pages that we have, which is about 1200 people, unique visitors visited that section of our website in October.” He found the “audience that is looking for that is not gigantic” compared to some pages that “tens of thousands of people will come to our site for,” but there was engagement with the page, and it was the most “up to date source of information” (audio - 8m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
  • Medical cannabis endorsements held by licensed retailers were also discussed, as staff admitted they hadn’t been checking compliance with Washington State Department of Health (DOH) requirements for the businesses.
    • During her update, Director of Licensing Becky Smith called attention to medically endorsed retailers, saying her division’s staff had begun interviewing the “289 retailers right now” to validate compliance with the requirements of their endorsements. WSLCB staff asked about the “ability to enter qualified patient information” to the DOH database and asked questions such as “do you have at least one employee who holds an active medical cannabis consultant” certificate? Without elaborating on what they’d heard, she commented that endorsements could be returned to the agency “at no cost. It doesn't cost them anything to apply; it doesn't cost anything for us…to remove it from their license if they're unable to meet the needs” of patients. Smith explained her staff were not prepared to “go out and do all of these checks on these medical endorsements” at the moment, but were planning in person visits “probably yearly” with “our enforcement partners” (audio - 1m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
    • Board Member Ollie Garrett brought up how they’d heard from some patients about a lack of available and appropriate medical cannabis products at the board meeting earlier in the day, adding, “years ago, we used to hear it consistently from the medical patient community.” She asked whether Smith’s team was hearing this message from patients (audio - 2m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • Director of Policy and External Affairs Justin Nordhorn spoke up to add that “we keep hearing intermittently about” that concern, but he complimented the work of the Licensing Division, saying it could help patients understand where “product may be available.” He then relayed how a stakeholder “we engage with” had positive feedback on approved pesticide rules which took effect in September, stating that the stakeholder (“representing a number of patients”) had done “some independent testing. Over the last couple months the pesticide hygiene of [legal] concentrates seems to have improved dramatically over previous years.” Nordhorn was happy to hear successes from patients, mindful that “we still don't have that many producers producing these products” and availability challenges were real.
    • Communications Director Brian Smith later mentioned the agency Topics and Trends fall cannabis newsletter had included a “really nice piece called ‘Medical Cannabis: How Retailers, Budtenders, and Medical Cannabis Consultants Can Help Patients.’” He credited Nordhorn with taking on the issue proactively and getting information out, and Postman concurred.
      • In the same release, staff published a shorter notice talking about outreach on medical endorsements which noted, “If you no longer meet the requirements for a medical endorsement, please let us know so that we can remove you from the list of medically endorsed retail stores that patients rely upon. Retailers can email to discontinue or request a medical endorsement.”
  • Director of Policy and External Affairs Justin Nordhorn went over the status of hosting virtual events, hiring for the tribal and government liaison job, and what was going on with work groups that had been organized by WSLCB (audio - 8m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
    • Drawing attention to the October 4th world café on cannabis canopy, Nordhorn said the event was “really successful” and staff were looking at what Microsoft Teams features might help staff execute the next event more effectively.
    • On the publication of a job listing for a Tribal and Government Liaison, Nordhorn commented, “hopefully we've got a nice wide net that we cast out there,” including a dedicated email about the position to tribal governments. He forecast job interviews would be scheduled for “mid-December” and expected to hire staff by January 2023.
    • Nordhorn credited Policy and Rules Manager Kathy Hoffman with standing up a Cannabinoid Science Work Group that had “a very neutral and objective scope to it.” Convening the group of internal and external stakeholders could offer a chance for WSLCB officials to “be proactive in conversations around some of the science behind cannabinoids,” he hoped. This could be “kinda tricky,” Nordhorn acknowledged, as there were “a lot of opinions…all across the board.” With “over 30” applicants, he informed the board “12 were confirmed right now” and others would be added to “review these discussions around available data, and research regulations of these cannabinoids.” Nordhorn mentioned that applicants weren’t just from Washington state, “but also from Poland and Israel.” At the moment, meetings of the work group had been set for “every other month” of 2023, he stated, and staff would consider “if that needs to be continued beyond that.”
      • The work group was scheduled to host its first meeting on Thursday December 1st.
    • Another work group around quality control standards was also being formed as part of “an evaluation of our pesticide rules,” Nordhorn remarked, and whether they had been “effective in reaching those particular goals that we were trying to reach.” Rather than having “a session for folks to come in and…complain about anything that had to do with implementation,” he was looking for “assessment of [whether] rules continue to make sense.”
      • Postman doubled down to emphasize “we are not going back…we're not undoing it” because the responsibility of the board was “to make sure that the cannabis being sold is safe - we're not going to have that fight again” (audio - 2m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
  • The Cannabis Central Reporting System (CCRS) received a short mention by Deputy Director Toni Hood after an enforcement briefing reinforced how much Cannabis Examiner staff time was devoted to internal and external data queries.
    • Hood described attending a “[CCRS] steering committee meeting this morning” and had been “excited to hear that they're looking at rolling out their second phase in January” which would include fixes around cannabis manifests. She promised to follow up on problems mentioned that morning by OpenTHC CEO David Busby (audio - <1m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • Postman said he was curious about Busby’s statements on “no positive confirmation of data received” (audio - <1m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • At publication time, it was Cannabis Observer’s understanding that third-party software integrators remained uninformed by WSLCB staff about the scope of changes, technical requirements, and timeline envisaged in the “second phase” of CCRS.
    • Director of Enforcement and Education Chandra Brady touched upon how staff had been “mak[ing] sure everybody's logged in, and now we've, we're moving to a place where we want to make sure people are entering the data.” She indicated staff had begun issuing notices to correct (NTC) to be “in compliance by a certain date” (audio - 11m, WSLCB video, TVW video).
      • She added that the Cannabis Examiners team had to offer both “support to licensees that have questions” while also getting “support to enforcement for investigations.” She noted the method for tracking staff time spent serving external or internal customers would be more precise in 2023.

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