WASHINGTON STATE: For the first time Washington NORML had a regular lobbyist in Olympia this year. The truth is NORML has almost always been staffed by volunteer activists. That’s what I was, at a NORML chapter in Missouri, interning for NORML’s national office in Washington DC, and later as head of NORML’s Thurston County chapter. The reward I got from it was doing the right thing, great stories, and lifelong friends. (Oh, as an intern NORML reimbursed subway fare.)
I was shocked when Kevin Oliver, the head of Washington NORML, said he’d raised some money to hire a lobbyist. But the professional he had in mind wanted it all, and didn’t believe the legislature would pass home growing of cannabis by adults, so wasn’t going to try. I promised to do it for much less, and give a damn about the things recreational consumers care about because I was one. I’ve lobbied as a citizen, but doing this as a job was another level.
Lobbying part time along with a second job I got up close and personal with a lot of bills. What did I do, and what changed? My focus this session broke down into five areas:
- Securing fair permitting for on-site cannabis use by for adults 21 and older. A draft bill to allow special permits for marijuana consumption events was drafted and shopped around to various members. Despite bipartisan interest failed to find a primary sponsor in time. However, a previous bill to allow cigar bars may be adapted to include marijuana on-site consumption. This leaves two avenues for social use, at a time that the policy is expanding among legal cannabis states.
- Securing cannabis homegrow protections and establishing a system of seed/clone sale for adults 21 and older. Two bills were heard this session to legalize personal cultivation, HB 1092 & 1212. HB 1212 passed unanimously out of Commerce & Gaming, and through the Rules review to the Finance committee, the farthest any such bill has progressed in the state. I searched for a sponsor for a draft bill to allow seed/clone sales to adults, making the law continent on personal cultivation being enacted this year. Apathy in the state senate slowed progress along with lingering questions about enforcement needs and federal intervention. In SB5131, the LCB has been mandated to produce a report on personal cultivation for the legislature by December. Beyond submitting information and rallying stakeholders, WA NORML will be looking for the best ways to raise consumer influence in this report, without which, it’s recommendations may not be trustworthy.
- Promote taxation/regulatory reforms that will benefit adult cannabis consumers. With the passage of an organic-like certification for cannabis products, legalized sharing/gifting of cannabis, expanded hemp access and use in consumer products, and regulation of infused edible production that is closer to other food industries, there are several ways in which the legal consumer will be better off with the changes in this session. Particularly the sharing/gifting of cannabis, while not a source of many arrests, remained a blindspot and common complaint against our legal framework.
- Promote reforms that will increase access and security in the sale of medically affordable compliant cannabis to patients/caregivers. Patient access to legal clones/seeds will be larger due to laws passed this year. Involving a rules process takes time, new laws will bring greater availability and stability to patients and caregivers producing their own medicine. Similarly to regular consumers, patients will also benefit from the organic-like certification, as recreational plant testing is often deemed inadequate for patient needs. Maddie’s Law, which would assist patient-students medicating on school property passed the house with broad support, and initially had senate momentum, but senate leadership halted progress and kept the bill from a floor vote. However, it’s simple change and broad popularity leave it well positioned to be addressed in the future, particularly as the U.S. Congress has maintained a ban on DEA interference in state-legal medical programs.
- Working to improve legislation where possible and oppose when necessary. An unfortunate reality is that some of the biggest victories this year were stopping damaging bills or amendments. In other cases objections were ignored. Nonetheless, opposition to billboard bans, increased public consumption penalties, increased packaging/concentrate penalties, banning of bitcoin, and retail bans in Alcohol Impact Areas helped keep these issues from advancing. Other areas like out-of-state financial stake, or increased licensee fees were opposed but amended into other legislation. While not perfect, success in stopping bad legislation is crucial to stemming any prohibition resurgence.
Most of my efforts were on HB1212, HB1060, ESSB5131, and searching for sponsors for two draft bills on seed sale and social use permitting. I also testified, signed in with a position available to answer questions at legislative hearings, submitted written materials, or spoke with lawmakers about the following bills:
Medical Cannabis Bills-
Pro: HB1098, HB1094, HB1060/SB5290, HB2021 Con: SB5933
Recreational Cannabis Bill-
Pro: HB1092, HB1099, HB1212, HB1124, HB1461/SB5323, HB1462 (enacted)/SB5324 Con: HB1416, HB1065, HB1151, SB5282 Other: HB1250 (enacted)
Pro: HB1692 Other: HB2064 (enacted)
Pro: HB1895 Other: SB5131 (enacted)
Changes from Enacted bills-
HB2064- Removing industrial hemp from the scope of the uniform controlled substances act.
Removing hemp from Washington’s CSA is positive in that it makes an ecologically and industrially beneficial plant available. However it’s lack of rules damage long term viability of the industry and outdoor cannabis grows with the risk of cross-pollination, absence of certified seed programs, and absent research component as required by Sec. 7606 of the federal Farm Bill. Amendments in SB5131, and recent rules proposed by the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture, should establish some hemp licensing, research parameters, and use in marijuana products but a seed certification program still depends on some federal cooperation.
HB1250- Authorizing retail marijuana outlets to give a free lockable drug box to adults age twenty-one years and over and to qualifying patients age eighteen years and over subject to restrictions.
By updating RCW 69.50.357, this bill allows retailers to “donate the lockable boxes and provide the related literature to any person eligible to purchase marijuana products” that they receive from a third party entity. Nothing in the law requires person eligible to buy anything in order to receive a lockbox and literature, and retailers are allowed to sell lockboxes (assuming they weren’t donated to the retailer) as well as distribute lockboxes that have been donated. I lobbied for the term “upon request” to be added so that consumers who actively want to store cannabis in lockboxes will get them versus the first customer offered a free item.
HB1462- Adding authority to the department of agriculture to regulate sanitary processing of marijuana-infused edibles.
This bill creates an edible endorsement for processors and greater authority for the Dept. of Agriculture to regulate infused edibles similar to that agencies other food handling regulation. While edible production was within the scope of licensed processors with approved facilities, those licensees will now need this endorsement with a separate application/renewal process all edible sales. This will involve Dept. of Agriculture adopting rules specifically for marijuana edibles, with an understanding “Such rules must be written and interpreted to be consistent with rules adopted by the board [LCB] and the department of health.” By April 1st, 2018 rules will regulate edibles similar to other food handling licenses with some exceptions including:
- issuance of the endorsement in lieu of a food processing license through the Dept. of Ag. business licensing system;
- separate penalty schedule to operate in addition to the penalty schedule of the LCB;
- must be obtained by any licensee that “processes, packages, or makes marijuana-infused edibles;”
- endorsement renewal will coincide with marijuana processors license renewal, but must already hold processors license before initial issuance.
- The licensee needs a separate endorsement for each location, and no facility can be used to process non-marijuana infused foods except “solely for tasting samples or internal product testing.”
SB5131- Addressing provisions concerning marijuana with respect to research licenses, local authority notifications, the retail licensing application process, processor wholesale events, and jurisdictional requirements.
Just signed into law by Gov. Inslee. I’ve written extensively on this bill for MJNewsNetwork, and have described it as “omnicannabis” because it is multiple bills addressing a wide variety of issues. Here’s a brief overview of what it does:
-Medical Garden Access: Allows licensed marijuana producers to sell immature cannabis plants, clones, and seeds to qualifying patients who enter the state’s medical marijuana database. A close reading of Sec. 11 suggests authorized but unregistered patients may be able to buy seeds, this may be allowed or banned by LCB rules process.
-Homegrow Report: The LCB must examine the viability of allowing recreational users to grow their own marijuana, with the enforcement priorities outlined in the Cole Memo as the central guidelines for their recommendation.
-Retail License Limit: A retailer or individual “with a financial or other ownership interest in” a retail license can own up to five retail licenses.
-Forfeiting Licenses: Require the LCB forfeit retail licenses which have been issued but are not operational and open to the public unless the delay is due to circumstances beyond the licensee’s control, for example if the licensee has been unable to open because of a local moratorium, ban, or because zoning, licensing or other regulatory measures prevent it from opening.
-Gifting Marijuana: Adults can deliver marijuana each other in half the legal possession amounts so long as the pot is offered as a gift without financial remuneration so long as the marijuana shared is either in it’s original packaging, or not in public view.
-Tribal Oversight: The LCB must get approval from a federally recognized Indian Tribe prior to granting a license on tribal land.
-Licensing Contracts & Disclosure: Allow a licensees to enter into agreements or consulting contracts “with any individual, partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation” for goods or services, trademarks, trade secrets or proprietary information. The agreement must be disclosed to the LCB, but various information and financial considerations are exempt from the state’s Public Disclosure Act.
-Organic-Equivalent Pot: The LCB is instructed to adopt regulations for marijuana similar to products federally certified as organic. The LCB will implement regulations for marijuana to be grown similar to organic products. These products will have a uniform title and labeling.
-Processing Hemp: The LCB must study the viability of letting licensed processors process industrial hemp. This may lead to legislation to allow processors to purchase plant material from farmers licensed to grow hemp.
-Advertising: Significant changes focused on advertising to kids. Prohibits licensees from taking “any action directly or indirectly to target youth in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of marijuana and marijuana products, or take any action the primary purpose of which is to initiate, maintain, or increase the incidence of youth use of marijuana or marijuana products.” This includes prohibiting toys, movie/cartoon characters, or images that would pique underage interest in pot. It also bans using commercial mascots, as defined to mean “a live human being, animal, or mechanical device used for attracting the attention of motorists and passersby so as to make them aware of marijuana products or the presence of a marijuana business.” This covers staff in costume, inflatable tube displays, or sign spinners. Cities and counties can further restrict advertising, but must enforce extra limits themselves.
-Billboards: A marijuana retailer may now only use a billboard to identify the name or nature of the business and directions to its location. Outdoor signs could not contain depictions of marijuana plants, products, or images that appeal to children. Outdoor advertising would be prohibited in “arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, fairs that receive state allocations, farmers markets, and video game arcades.” An exception allows outdoor advertising at adult-only events.
As you see, I got a lot done, and I had help and support, but faced off with a lot of professional lobbyists whose careers or relationships in Olympia go a long way. There are bad lobbyists and corrupt special interests. But typically, with them comes big money and disproportionate influence. I talked with a woman earlier this year who said she wouldn’t trust any marijuana activist that got paid to lobby. I told her I understood, then shook her hand and told her I hoped she had just met one she could trust. I hope being open and clear about what I did, didn’t do, or hoped to do offers a small gesture that I mean well, even if I’m not the slickest salesman ever. Cannabis consumers care about fair influence after generations of laws being made ABOUT them but not WITH them.
Are there other lobbyists publicize the oversight of themselves? Maybe, but I’ve never met any who did. In my first article about my lobbying here at MJNewsNetwork, I explained that you can find my lobbyist reporting to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission here:
I’m honored and humbled that any group would pay me to lobby for better pot laws. I dream of doing that more often than gaining online fame. But between my wife and me, we have a full time job, three part time jobs, and one car to get us to them. My payment from Washington NORML is a matter of record, and has been very generous, but it’s not making me rich.
That’s fine, my getting rich is not the point. Our fight is far from over, but the battlefield is different, and organizing protests or petitions is costlier and won’t engage a voting public that largely finds pot accessible and available. Traditional lobbying carries risks, no doubt, and it’s not the same as flipping off the status quo for it’s many oppressive practices. But supporting consumer lobbying is going to get more wins in legal states than future statewide ballot efforts. The point is that the marijuana community should work together and support traditional lobbying in places with legal pot. It’s not as exciting or visible, but it’s crucial.
The problem with gains is they have to be maintained. I’ll be speaking up for home grow, or any other legislation that makes sense next year, no matter what. I don’t know if WA NORML will have support to pay me, or anyone, to lobby. I’ll do what I can, but don’t know what time I’ll have left to do it. This has always been the struggle of volunteer activists, but these are gains worth maintaining, hopefully cannabis consumers will support WA NORML the way WA NORML has supported them (and me).