WA House COG – Committee Meeting
(January 30, 2020)

Here are some observations from the Thursday January 30th Washington State House Commerce and Gaming Committee (WA House COG) committee meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • The House Commerce and Gaming Committee hosted public hearings on three new cannabis bills, beginning with HB 2546 – “Concerning the potency of marijuana products.”
    • Staff Report
    • Representative Lauren Davis, the bill’s primary sponsor, began by thanking all those in attendance for participating in the “long overdue conversation.” Her first point was that the bill was “never intended to impact medical marijuana patients” leading to an exemption for them to keep buying concentrates in the legislation. Davis said her involvement in the issue stemmed from knowing two 16 year olds diagnosed with schizophrenia “in the same year” (audio – 7m, video).
      • In her work as Executive Director of the Washington Recovery Alliance, Davis “started to hear from directors of in-patient psychiatric units that their units were full of adolescents and young adults with cannabis-induced psychosis.” Following that, Davis heard from “high school administrators and teachers who were finding high school students in the parking lot having just used dabs and shatter” or other concentrates and were “in the throes of psychotic breaks.”
      • Acknowledging that “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data,’” Davis conducted her own research and found numerous “alarming” studies. She quoted a “meta analysis from the 2017 study of the National Academy of Medicine that looked at three decades of research on the link between cannabis and psychosis and they concluded ‘the association between cannabis use and the development of psychotic disorder is supported by data synthesized in several good quality systematic reviews. The magnitude of association is moderate-to-large and appears to be dose dependant.’” She then pointed to an article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry indicating that “among the young people that are being found in the high school parking lot, or appearing in the emergency department for THC-induced psychotic breaks, half of them will have a full-blown schizophrenia diagnosis within eight years.”
        • Read the National Academy of Medicine Committee Conclusions on cannabis health effects from the 2017 meta analysis cited in Davis’ testimony.
      • “After the legalization of marijuana in Colorado,” Davis claimed there was a “484% increase in young people seeking care for cannabis-related symptoms at Children’s Hospital Colorado” with the principal symptoms of “paranoia, psychosis, and cyclic vomiting, also known as cannabis hyperemesis.” She then asserted a “77% increase in adolescent suicide with marijuana in their systems” in Colorado.
        • A study of Children’s Hospital Colorado data documented a four-fold increase in emergency room admissions of adolescents testing positive for cannabis on a drug screen or “with a cannabis related diagnostic code” but did not indicate those admissions were “seeking care for cannabis-related symptoms.” As well, the study examined data from 2005 to 2015. Colorado had no legal medical dispensaries until 2009, and no recreational stores until 2014, meaning it’s possible the trend wasn’t dependent on legalization.
        • Cannabis Observer wasn’t able to identify a source for the claim of a “77% increase in adolescent suicide with marijuana in their systems” for Colorado following legalization. However, Colorado had seen an increase in adolescent suicide at a rate faster than the national average in recent years, according to statistics from the United Health Foundation.
      • Davis summarized her findings as “cannabis use increases the likelihood of developing psychotic symptoms both in people who have an inherited susceptibility” as well as “people who may have otherwise never developed a psychotic disorder.” She claimed that all people have “a threshold for developing a psychotic disorder, and the belief is that cannabis use lowers that threshold.” She noted research into the relationship between cannabis and psychosis continued.
      • Davis claimed that the average potency of “black market cannabis” in the 1970s was “2% and in 1995 it was 4% and the time voters approved initiative 502 it was 12%.” Following legalization “with the aid of private investment,” Davis believed the cannabis industry “created concentrates with a potency of between 70 and 100%.” She also stated that Washington had “limited the potency of edibles to 10%” and that cannabis plants had a “biological limit” of around 30% THC – but no limit existed for concentrates.
        • A 2019 VICE News article explored several problems with widely-cited historical cannabis potency data. “[Most] of the hard numbers on changes in cannabis potency come from the government’s Potency Monitoring Program, which has been run by the University of Mississippi since 1971 and is the only major lab focused on studying how it has changed historically. Their data relies on samples seized by law enforcement, which introduces variables that make accurate comparison over time—particularly in the early years—difficult…For one, the researchers only had access to about 150-200 samples per year in the early 1970s. With so few samples, the data could be based on unrepresentative ditchweed—not what most people were actually smoking…Mahmoud ElSohly, a professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Mississippi and director of the school’s Marijuana Project—which oversees the Potency Monitoring Program—noted another problem that makes the old data less reliable. Before he took charge in 1981, the [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] (DEA) often didn’t provide samples in a timely fashion, he said. “The samples were not sent to us until after the cases were disposed of legally,” ElSohly explained, meaning they were often a few years old…Since potency decays by roughly 10 percent per year, according to ElSohly, this means that those samples didn’t really represent the real strength of the drug at the time that people actually bought and consumed it.” 
      • Davis highlighted an article in the International Journal of Drug Policy (IJDP) from 2016 which stated, “the legalization model adopted in Washington is descant with the political rhetoric that made legalization possible.” She asserted that the I-502 campaign was “centered on the marijuana plant and based on the relatively benign societal experience of adults consuming marijuana joints and brownies.” By contrast, she felt the cannabis industry was “transforming” the plant into a “potent and well marketed product that most people were not aware existed when the initiative passed.”
      • Saying that concentrates’ share of the 502 market was increasing, Davis referenced the state’s Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) to say that most school aged children in the state using marijuana were accessing it through “illegal means, typically older siblings and older friends.” She cited other statistics about youth use and perception of risk similar to WSLCB Public Health Education Liaison Sara Cooley Broschart’s presentation to that agency’s board last December.
      • “Something happened to my generation,” Davis suggested, reflecting that when she was in high school in the early 2000s, “my friends, my peers, were tearing their ACL at soccer practice, and they were getting their wisdom teeth removed, and they were prescribed large quantities of opioids.” And despite claims from opioid manufacturers, she had witnessed “opioid use disorders” such that “many of them are not here anymore.”
      • The intent of HB 2546, she concluded, was to “address a significant problem.” And while she was open to “debate what the cap on THC products should be, or if there should be one at all,” Davis insisted that there was a “public health crisis” of underage cannabis use and that Washington youth had “easy access to cannabis products.” She claimed the situation amounted to “conducting a scientific experiment on the brains of an entire generation.” HB 2546 was the “beginning, not the end” of a dialogue on cannabis and the brain, she said.
    • Davis’s remarks prompted Representative Steve Kirby to ask about her openness to bill modifications (audio – 1m, video).
    • Pro (6)
      • Seth Dawson, Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention (WASAVP) Lobbyist (audio – 2m, video)
      • Henry Levine, Washington State Psychiatric Association (WSPA, audio – 2m, video)
        • Levine said WSPA was “strongly in favor of limiting THC content of recreational, but not medical marijuana.” Practicing medicine for 50 years, Levine taught “marijuana and medicine to doctor’s groups throughout the country.” He echoed Davis’ remarks associating cannabis and psychosis, and highlighted schizophrenia as “the most devastating psychiatric illness” possible. “High-THC marijuana causes brain damage,” Levine argued, while increasing the risk of addiction and “major psychiatric illnesses.” The threat of cannabis involved “multi-generation effects on youth particularly” as potent cannabis “impairs judgement, impairs impulse control, and increases sex drive.” Levine warned that when “youthful users get pregnant, THC crosses into the circulation of the fetus” ultimately impairing “the baby’s brain development.” He believed it would “devastate current and future generations of Washingtonians.”
      • Beth Ebel, Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Legislative Committee Co-Chair (WCAAP, audio – 1m, video)
        • Following the panel of Dawson, Levine, and Ebel, lawmakers had several questions. Representative Jesse Young asked about prenatal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) exposure (audio – 2m, video).
        • Representative Melanie Morgan asked about underage cannabis access (audio – 2m, video)
        • Assistant Ranking Minority Member Kelly Chambers inquired about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (audio – 1m, video).
        • Finally, Representative Alex Ramel wanted to know the thinking behind picking a 10% limit for concentrates (audio – 1m, video).
      • Sean Graham, Washington State Medical Association Director, Government Affairs and Lobbyist (WSMA, signed in)
      • Patty Seib, Seattle Children’s Hospital Lobbyist (signed in)
      • Lisa Thatcher, Washington State Hospital Association Lobbyist (WSHA, signed in)
    • Con (48)
      • Caitlein Ryan, The Cannabis Alliance Board President (audio – 2m, video)
      • Yoko Miyashita, Leafly General Counsel (audio – 2m, video)
      • A.C. Braddock, The Cannabis Alliance Vice President (audio – 2m, video)
      • Eric Gaston, Craft Cannabis Coalition (CCC) Board Member (audio – 1m, video)
        • The Evergreen Market Co-Founder
      • Kyle Capizzi, Craft Cannabis Coalition Executive Director (audio – 2m, video)
        • Capizzi said he approached HB 2546 as “both a scientific issue and a policy issue” but felt that the “hyperbole around some of the discussion so far has been on the levels of ‘Reefer Madness.’” He referenced written testimony from Dominic Corva, founder of the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy (CASP) and testimony submitted by Sunil Aggarwal, Co-Founder of the Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute (AIMS), that spoke “to the scientific issues at hand.” Capizzi said the bill had a clear economic impact and expressed surprise that a fiscal note on the legislation was not yet available. He called schizophrenia a “multifactorial disease” without a single source, adding that cannabis was likely a “low contributor compared to many other factors.”
      • Thomas Werth, Top Shelf Cannabis CEO (audio – 2m, video)
      • Drew Davis, Seattle Marijuana Company Counsel (audio – 2m, video)
      • Thomas Fallihee, PRC Arlington (audio – 2m, video)
        • Chambers asked for Fallihee to email the committee the statistics he shared during his testimony (audio – <1m, video) and then followed up with a question about potential concentrations (audio – 1m, video).
      • Beau Jackson, Campaign to Oppose HB 2546 (audio – 2m, video)
      • Casey Craig, Legit Cannabis Co-Founder (audio – 1m, video)
      • Benjamin London, Seattle Marijuana Company, Mountain Hi, and Hard Hat Extracts Owner (audio – 1m, video)
        • London said his Tier 1 operation employed 20 people from many backgrounds. “We’re concerned because roughly 92% of all the income we generate is from concentrates.” If the bill passed, he expected it would lead to his closure and “not only our 20 jobs, but another 125 jobs on our block alone in Arlington.” London added that many of the concentrates his company processed “go into different edibles and go into different lotions and salves that aren’t being considered here.” He emphasized more than the 40% of the legal cannabis market cited in the bill was at risk.
      • Connor Brown, Seattle Marijuana Company, Hard Hat Extracts, and Mountain Hi (audio – 1m, video)
        • After Craig, London, and Brown spoke Ramel asked about ranges of concentrations (audio – 1m, video) and followed up to ask about their target markets (audio – <1m, video).
        • Representative Bill Jenkin wanted more information about THC concentrations in cannabis flower (audio – 2m, video).
      • Sarah Rasor, CannaMedic Coaching (audio – 1m, video)
        • Rasor told the committee that “the science for this bill doesn’t work and that’s frustrating as a cannabis patient coach.” She noted the plant’s medical potential before stating that “I know you say this isn’t going to affect patients but there’s not a lot of patient product out there.” She asked lawmakers to watch their emails for information that would be sent to them, “and to consider that a lot of these studies are more current, they’re peer-reviewed studies.”
      • “Grandma” Cat Jeter, Full-time cannabis healing consultant (audio – 2m, video)
      • Patrick Seifert, Twenty22Many Founder (audio – 1m, video)
        • Following the panel of Rasor, Jeter, and Seifert, Kirby asked for an explanation of “dabbing” (audio – 1m, video).
        • Representative Shelly Kloba, who had already offered one amendment on the bill, asked for suggestions to improve the bill (audio – 1m, video).
      • Crystal Oliver, Washington SunGrowers Industry Association (WSIA) Executive Director (audio – 1m, video)
      • Steve Schechterle, Fairwinds Manufacturing Marketing Coordinator (audio – 1m, video)
      • Dawn Darrington, Former nursing instructor (audio – 2m, video)
      • Lauren Dobyns, Northwest Cannabis Solutions (NWCS, audio – 1m, video)
      • Laurent Bentitou, Saturn Group (audio – 2m, video)
      • Lukas Hunter, Harmony Farms Compliance Manager (audio – 1m, video)
      • Brandon HamiltonWAM Oil CEO and Co-Founder (audio – 1m, video)
      • Jeff Wilhoit, Puffin Farm Director of Extracts (audio – 1m, video)
      • Philip Dawdy, Washington Cannabis Association (audio – 2m, video)
      • Preston Hall, consumer (audio – 1m, video)
      • Timothy Edwards, medical cannabis patient (audio – 1m, video)
      • Peggy Button, medical cannabis patient (audio – 2m, video)
      • Laurel Friesen, Heylo Cannabis Founder and CEO (audio – 2m, video)
      • Bailey Hirschburg, Washington NORML (written testimony, audio – 1m, video)
        • WSLCB Cannabis Advisory Council (CAC) Consumer Representative
      • Micah Sherman, Raven Owner (audio – 2m, video)
        • Sherman supported earlier speakers’ viewpoints and explained that his remarks were “more to the process and the intention of the way this bill was introduced.” He said Davis’ testimony on the bill contained “misinformation” as well as “outdated studies and a lot of just factual inaccuracies.” Sherman asserted, “when that sort of information is presented as fact to a community that has been historically underrepresented in this process of legislation, who have been put in jail, locked up for a lot of their lives for the products that they’ve produced…in a setting like this, it brings up those traumas of those past experiences, and it tells us that we’re not taken seriously” and implies “that our value is not considered and that we are not important.” He hoped and requested that “in the future, when bills of this nature are presented: that the facts are solid, that the intent is clear, and that it’s not presented to us as we are doing something wrong and [the State is] going to prohibit your activity. That is no longer necessary or acceptable in the conversation of cannabis in this country.”
      • Jan Ramsey, Medical cannabis patient (audio – 2m, video)
      • Ezra Eickmeyer, Producers Alliance NW (audio – 1m, video)
      • Debra Cook (signed in)
      • Joshua Estes, The Kushery Contract Lobbyist (signed in)
      • Debra Hansen (signed in)
      • Connor Jackson, Mammoth Labs Head of Operations (signed in)
      • Gene Kulinovsky, Velicahn, Inc. (signed in)
      • Levi Lyon, LyonPride Owner (signed in)
      • Mike Redman, Green Lady Marijuana Owner (signed in)
      • William Reichlin, Mammoth Labs (signed in)
      • Eric Rhetta, Twenty22Many (signed in)
      • Ernest Rollins, Twenty22Many (signed in)
      • Michelle Saye (signed in)
      • Tito Som, Green Lady Marijuana (signed in)
      • Todd Stramel (signed in)
      • David Vercauteren, DVR Design (signed in)
      • Jordan Waits, Campaign to Oppose HB 2546 (signed in)
      • Raven Wilson (signed in)
    • Other (0)
    • Chair Strom Peterson thanked everyone for their testimony and made clear that “this bill is not going to be moving out of this committee but the conversation certainly is” (audio – 1m, video).
    • At publication time, HB 2546’s Senate companion, SB 6332, remained scheduled for its public hearing in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday February 3rd.
  • After a short caucus, the committee next heard testimony on HB 2726 – “Regarding marijuana-infused edible products.”
    • Staff Report
    • Representative Steve Tharinger, the legislation’s prime sponsor, said that the issue came to his attention after a constituent “tried to work with Agriculture to get pasteurized products” approved but reported it had “been a challenge.” He believed that his bill would “provide some clarity into that process” and support “entrepreneurial businesses in this space.” Tharinger claimed most states “that have legalized marijuana for adults do allow it” (audio – 2m, video).
    • Pro (9)
      • Mark Ambler, Tier 1 Producers Association (T1PA) Founder (audio – 1m, video)
      • David Brown, Central Business District Staff Attorney (written testimony, audio – 2m, video)
        • Coastal Cannabis Consulting Managing Director
        • Former WSIA Executive Director
        • Brown, the constituent who brought the proposal to Tharinger’s attention, established that “several other states do allow pasteurization” specifically mentioning California, Colorado, and Oregon. He said that California “undertook an extensive study of the subject” which Brown said he’d shared with committee members electronically. He felt that while cannabis food regulations were important, Washington’s rules had become “outdated” as other states had “found a way to accomplish this.” Brown described the bill as “a friendly nudge” towards rulemaking for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). He also felt it would “expand the available products” for both patients and the public.
      • Jeff Wilhoit (audio – 1m, video)
      • Joshua Estes (signed in)
      • Bailey Hirschburg (signed in)
      • Levi Lyon (signed in)
      • Mike Redman (signed in)
      • Tito Som (signed in)
      • David Vercauteren (signed in)
    • Con (0)
    • Other (4)
      • Kristin Baldwin, The Cannabis Alliance Executive Director (audio – 1m, video)
        • While generally supportive of the bill, Baldwin asked for an amendment which would free cannabis processor kitchens to create other products beyond edibles containing “marijuana” as proscribed in RCW 69.07.200(2)(d). “My members have worked with LCB and WSDA to be able to process both marijuana infused and CBD products” in one facility and asked “to continue to do this.” Baldwin compared the situation to “asking Hershey to produce just a plain chocolate and then require a new facility to add nuts to their chocolate.”
      • Ezra Eickmeyer (audio – 1m, video)
      • Kelly McLain, WSDA Policy Advisor to the Director (audio – 2m, video)
        • While not opposing the legislation, McLain communicated her department’s concerns. She said the initial rulemaking for marijuana infused edibles (MIEs) between WSDA and WSLCB had intentionally focused on “low risk foods.” HB 2726 would “include adding foods that are high risk, including acidified foods, dairy, frozen foods and desserts, and low-acid canned foods.” Foods of that nature required “a level of detailed review and expertise that does not currently lie within the Department of Agriculture.” McLain said such reviews “currently happen at the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the federal level.” WSDA would require additional staff to “review complex applications and determine if intended processes meet legal and public health requirements.” The need for new staff meant there would be “significant fiscal impacts” stemming from the bill. McLain’s suggested alternative was for a proviso directing WSDA to work with stakeholders to identify “the lowest risk of those high risk foods as a first stepping stone into the high risk food space.”
        • After testimony from Baldwin, McLain, and Eickmeyer, Kloba had a question on food safety risks (audio – 1m, video).
        • Peterson asked how such products were handled in other states (audio – <1m, video).
      • Chris Thompson, WSLCB Director of Legislative Relations (audio – <1m, video)
        • In the interest of time, Peterson asked that Thompson not testify on the bill and asked committee members to approach him directly if they had questions on the agency’s views “since you are around.”
  • The final public hearing was on HB 2359 – “Creating a certificate of compliance for marijuana business premises that meet the statutory qualifications at the time of application.”
    • Staff Report
    • Representative Brandon Vick spoke to his bill’s merits, saying it was a “technical bill” and something that would be offered to any other type of business “in the same situation.” He relayed the story of a cannabis licensee in his district who “got the land, invested all his money” before a “disqualifying facility” moved within the buffer area for the proposed premises. Vick felt that “when you do your due diligence” and receive his proposed certificate of location compliance, a business could invest “safely and know that you’ve been in compliance and will be in compliance” (audio – 2m, video).
    • Pro (5)
      • Crystal Oliver (audio – 1m, video)
      • Brooke Davies, Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA) Deputy Director (audio – 1m, video)
      • Chris Thompson (audio – 1m, video)
        • Thompson said WSLCB needed a “technical amendment” on the bill “because of the syntax of the sentence” which could be interpreted to require the agency issue the certificate “on the day of the application and we can’t do that.” The agency would need time to “verify that the requirements are met.”
      • Eric Gaston (signed in)
      • Bailey Hirschburg (signed in)
    • Con (5)
      • Joshua Estes (signed in)
      • Levi Lyon (signed in)
      • Mike Redman (signed in)
      • Tito Som (signed in)
      • David Vercauteren (signed in)
    • Other (0)
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