Washington State House Commerce and Gaming Committee – Work Session
(January 14, 2019)

Here are some observations from the January 14th Washington State House Commerce and Gaming Committee work session.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) staff briefed lawmakers on a history and current state of Washington’s cannabis market (video, slidedeck).
    • Director Rick Garza guided committee members through a background of the law, its implementation, and subsequent incorporation of medical cannabis into the recreational system (audio – 14m).
    • Garza outlined the title certificate program available to retail licensees situated in ban/moratorium jurisdictions. Garza conveyed his belief that the WSLCB had largely finished the licensing process and were settling into an “operational” phase of cannabis regulation.
    • Asked about the small number of medical cannabis cooperatives licensed by WSLCB (17 co-ops approved out of 132 applications), Garza explained that most withdrawals were in response to local government objections or at the request of an application member (slide).
    • Enforcement Chief Justin Nordhorn updated members (audio – 13m, video) on the most commonly made and substantiated complaints (slide), showed sales to minors are a bigger challenge for the alcohol industry (slide), and asserted traceability violations and cannabis seizures by the WSLCB have risen substantially (slide).
    • During committee questions (audio – 22m, video), Representative Shelley Kloba asked for the WSLCB’s perspective on calls regarding cannabis exposures to the non-profit Washington Poison Center (WAPC) and if there were proven cannabis fatalities. Neither Garza nor Nordhorn identified any cannabis exposures resulting in fatalities. Nordhorn explained the calls represent people reaching out for assistance, not clinical diagnoses of drug overdoses. Garza noted many WAPC calls amounted to “panic attacks” from individuals, and that calls spiked after the Poison Center’s phone number was included on cannabis product labeling.
    • Kloba briefly spoke of the lack of state funding for cannabis research.
    • The Commerce and Gaming Committee has hosted two other cannabis work sessions in preparation for the 2019 session. The November 16, 2018 work session featured WSLCB and industry representatives. The December 3, 2018 session included WSLCB and the Departments of Ecology and Agriculture.
  • The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) Office of Health Professions Director Martin Pittioni walked the committee though the department’s medical cannabis program (audio – 19m, video, slidedeck).
    • Pittioni addressed certification of medical cannabis consultants, endorsing compliant products, and maintaining the database of registered patients.
    • Pittioni offered new statistics on the 15,500 patients registered with the state (slide) and said moving forward DOH will collaborate with WSLCB, other agencies, and stakeholders to improve: product regulations, consultant training, coordinating a workgroup to update authorization rules, and improved data collection through standardizing reporting tables (slide).
    • Vice Chair Kristine Reeves and committee member Melanie Morgan asked for assurances regarding data security and raised privacy concerns about who can access patient registry data.
  • Representatives of The Cannabis Alliance and Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA) brought concerns and goals of the industry to the legislative work session.
    • Cannabis Alliance Board President Danielle Rosellison, co-owner of Trail Blazin’ Productions, offered lawmakers a sobering perspective of a system in crisis despite the state’s ability to lead on cannabis (audio – 5m, video). Her business has thousands of pounds of DOH compliant, but unsold, medical cannabis and she’s uncertain if Trail Blazin’ will stay in business. Rosellison summarized, “Businesses just like me are closing their doors every day… And the vast majority of us are struggling, dying, or have died.”
    • Norm Ives, an insurance broker with Worldwide Facilities, explained that while he thought a lot of Washington’s cannabis model, a “broken traceability system” was impacting risk assessments used by insurers to evaluate cannabis business liability (audio – 5m, video). Without faster action, Ives warned, increasing “uninsurability” would drive licensees to close. He also voiced concern about the state’s inability to track down the pesticide-laden cannabis which was processed into concentrates and discovered after independent testing by Seattle retailer Uncle Ike’s.
    • Caitlein Ryan, co-owner of producer/processor Seven Hills and president of the Central Washington Growers Association, echoed concerns about the traceability system and improper pesticide use in the market (audio – 4m, video). She presented legislative goals of Alliance members including direct-sales to consumers by growers and classification of cannabis as an agricultural product.
    • Vicki Christophersen, Executive Director and Lobbyist of WACA, described a more optimistic industry landscape pointing to an employment estimate of 10,000 cannabis jobs in Washington totalling roughly $256 million in wages (audio – 9m, video). Christophersen called for changes in WSLCB enforcement culture characterized by a “gotcha mentality” of issuing violations. She also spoke in favor of statutory changes to permit out of state financing, enable retailers to sell merchandise, and create labeling standards that delineate between therapeutic and descriptive product claims.
    • See also Employment and Wage Earnings in Licensed Marijuana Businesses published by the Washington State Institute of Public Policy (WSIPP) in June 2017 for information on employment and wage estimates.

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