State mulls changes to Washington marijuana industry amid claims of bias, abuses of power

Jan 19, 2022, 10:25 AM | Updated: 11:52 am
Marijuana Washington...
Uncle Ike's in White Center. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Roughly 10 years after the passage of I-502, state lawmakers will consider a series of bills aimed at modernizing Washington’s legal recreational marijuana industry.

10 years later, industry says Washington’s legal marijuana needs an update

Among those bills is a push to revamp the make up of the Liquor and Cannabis Board.

SB 5671 is a proposal to modernize the Liquor and Cannabis Board, which since 2012 — when liquor was privatized in Washington state and cannabis was legalized — the board structure has remained the same since then, even though the scope of their regulatory responsibilities have changed dramatically in the past 10 years,” said Aaron Pickus, spokesperson for the Washington CannaBusiness Association.

“Building on previous reform efforts regarding this agency, we are proposing aligning the Liquor and Cannabis Board structure more with its peer, the Gambling Commission, and adding two additional board members and four ex officio members from the Legislature to help expand their capacity to tackle the really complex issues facing the legal marketplace today in our state,” he added.

The reason behind the push for this change involves a multitude of issues, including the increased responsibility of the board over the past decade that some believe is too heavy a lift for the three-person board.

But philosophy and approach to the voter-approved legal marketplace are also of concern, particularly related to what some say has been a heavy-handed enforcement approach.

“There have been concerns over the years that have been well-documented regarding how the agency, at all levels, has approached the now-legal cannabis industry. These concerns are documented in findings in our courts where the board was cited as being biased against cannabis businesses,” explained Pickus, who added that those issues are now included in a soon-to-be published manuscript titled, “The Turbulent History of Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement in Washington State.”

“The 70-page review jumps into the details of how our state is a cautionary tale for other legal marketplaces, and how the culture and framework of regulations for this new industry really matter when it comes to helping local businesses succeed while upholding public safety,” Pickus described. “And so that is another reason why we believe it’s time to modernize the structure of the LCB board now that we’re 10 years into the legal market, with an eye toward what the next 10 years can be so that our local businesses can can prosper.”

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Excerpts from the manuscript describe Washington’s system as hostile, alleging abuses of power and bias.

“The LCB’s frequently hostile enforcement culture — including arguing to courts that cannabis licensees have no constitutional rights — has repeatedly converted de minimis regulatory violations into business-ending events,” reads the abstract.

“This article, the first of its kind to chronicle the regulatory and legislative evolution of Washington’s cannabis industry, details the troubling history of the LCB’s abuses of power and policy blunders in the early years of regulating Washington’s cannabis industry,” it continues. “Washington presents a cautionary tale for other jurisdictions to heed when crafting or amending the regulatory scheme for their adult-use cannabis industries. Stakeholders that are looking for a responsible and fair approach to regulating cannabis should consider the history, limitations, concerns, and resulting reforms borne from the Washington system.”

The bill to change the LCB and several other cannabis-related bills are being heard Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee. Follow along at this link.

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State mulls changes to Washington marijuana industry amid claims of bias, abuses of power