Here are some observations from the February 6th Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) Executive Management Team public meeting.
My top 3 takeaways:
- WSLCB Director of Legislative Relations Chris Thompson updated the Board and staff on the agency’s request legislation, as well as other cannabis bills (audio – 18m).
- The most recent public update from Thompson on the agency’s request legislation was at the Cannabis Advisory Council (CAC) meeting on January 16th.
- The Budtender Bill (HB 1370 / SB 5678) was scheduled for Executive Session in the House Commerce and Gaming Committee on Thursday February 7th (agenda). Thompson anticipated an amendment would be proposed creating a 60-day window before new retail employees must obtain a permit; he indicated the agency wouldn’t object. HB 1370 had been scheduled for action on Monday February 4th, but no action was taken.
- WSLCB Enforcement Chief Justin Nordhorn and others testified at the first public hearing for the companion bill, SB 5678, hosted by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on January 31st.
- The Enforcement Uniformity Bill (HB 1626) will also be heard on February 7th in the House Public Safety Committee. Thompson sounded an optimistic note on the bill but observed that Senator Jamie Pedersen, Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, informed Thompson the committee wouldn’t hear the bill until it was sent over following House passage.
- Thompson announced that WSLCB had withdrawn agency request legislation on Testing Lab Accreditation due to the Department of Ecology (DOE) giving a “pretty significant fiscal note” which called for $366,000 from WSLCB for what he termed “task force work.” Thompson said the amount was “not available out of our current funding.” By not requesting the bill, the agency wouldn’t have to testify in favor, but would provide information or advise appropriating funding from the state’s cannabis account.
- Thompson previously mentioned WSLCB and DOE were ironing out differences at the January 16th CAC.
- The “task force” mentioned is likely the inter-agency “Cannabis Science Task Force” intended to develop product standards, lab standards, and proficiency testing as recommended by DOE in their report delivered to the legislature in February and mentioned during the House Commerce and Gaming Committee Work Session on December 3rd.
- As for other agency request legislation, Thompson reported the SMP account legislation (HB 1430) had a positive public hearing and the alcohol promoter bill (SB 5677) passed out of its first committee.
- Discussing other cannabis legislation Thompson began by noting “There’s been a lot of energy around home grow, again…[a] lot of support, a lot of concerns, a lot of opposition.” Thompson testified neutrally on behalf of the agency at both public hearings and noted neither bill had moved since. He mentioned law enforcement concerns and paraphrased lawmaker comments as “don’t assume everybody’s going to be a criminal” (audio – 10m).
- Cannabis Observer summarized and transcribed the initial public hearings for the companion home grow bills: HB 1131 in the House (summary, transcript) and SB 5155 in the Senate (summary, transcript).
- For additional background, see Cannabis Observer’s January 14th bill analysis of HB 1131 and Washington home grow research topic.
- Thompson singled out HB 1236 (“Concerning the ability of business and nonprofit entities to obtain a marijuana license.”) and noted that WSLCB had “evolved somewhat” on a threshold of 10% ownership before requiring financial vetting: “We’re okay with that if we have the identity of the person.” He indicated WSLCB would consider how many licenses potential owners had a stake in and expressed concern about concentration of licenses. Thompson said banking institutions were seriously interested in vetting processes and suggested industry representatives would do well to weigh the risk of diminished banking access against finding new investors.
- Thompson called attention to situations where WSLCB was the “front” of policies being criticized where relevant changes depended upon other agencies – notably the Department of Health (DOH). He said industry complaints about product labeling was more dependent on decisions by DOH. He cited the struggle of “moving from regulation of cannabis to regulation of medicine” and conflict between differing state and federal standards. “When we say you can’t put ‘wellness’ on the label of your product, we’re reflecting [DOH’s] perspective on this, but they’re not showing up at the hearings.” Thompson hoped they’ll be better partners going forward.
- Board Member Russ Hauge discussed his recent testimony on HB 1237 (“Reforming the compliance and enforcement provisions for marijuana licensees.”) and counsel raised concerns over the bill’s impact on their authority to review settlements. “It’s an executive function, and the legislature can’t limit that.” Hauge said the Attorney General’s office may raise the issue if the bill progresses. Thompson promised to work with Hauge to watch the legislation.
- Board Member Ollie Garrett and staff shared their experiences from the recent North American Cannabis Summit in Los Angeles (audio – 6m, event program).
- Staff felt the 2017 Summit in Denver, Colorado focused on the U.S., but this event included significant participation from Canada and Mexico.
- The group discussed Canada’s emerging cannabis system wherein the national government organizes production while provinces control distribution and retail.
- Director Rick Garza praised Gillian Schauer, a consultant on health issues and clinical instructor at the University of Washington Department of Health Services, and compared her collaborative work with medical cannabis states to the agency’s participation in roundtables with other legal states. Garza suggested Schauer may be employed by the State of Vermont to combine the medical and legal roundtable groups.
- Garrett will formally share her notes at next week’s board caucus on Tuesday February 12th.
- WSLCB Staff looked ahead to upcoming events.
- Brian Smith, Director of Communications, reported that he’s liaising with Health Care Authority (HCA) staff on the release of the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey. Smith described the survey as nearly complete, but embargoed until release the 3rd week of March (audio – 1m).
- Dustin Dickson, Executive Assistant to the Board, identified May 1st and August 21st as tentative dates for additional board meetings outside of Olympia in 2019, inspired by the agency’s experience organizing a public meeting in Spokane last month. Potential locations included SeaTac, Bothell, Yakima, or Vancouver, Washington (audio – 2m).
- Board Chair Jane Rushford confirmed the February 20th board meeting will be cancelled. Rushford said WSLCB was “in between steps in our rulemaking process” but expressed it would be unusual not to have a board meeting in February (audio – 2m).
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