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Washington Cannabis in the Legislature

I’ve been watching the committee hearings concerning the pot laws in Washington. Five years into this thing, the elected reps seem to be getting it and are actually handling the issues in a rational way.

There’s recognition that legalization is working, the sky hasn’t fallen, a number of horribles haven’t happened, the business is thriving, and the tax revenue is flowing into the state. Almost all members of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee are on board, but two new members will need to study up a bit on the topic. The news is almost as good over in the Senate.

Some reps are bragging about how well things are going in Washington, though I can personally attest they didn’t feel that way a couple of years ago. Now, even with a majority in the legislature willing to vote for changes, what usually happens is the session comes to an end before the bills can be voted on, pushing everything off for a year. I’m thinking those bills will have a higher priority this year.

Vicki Christopherson of the Washington Cannabusiness Association pointed out in her public testimony that the laws, the rules, and the industry itself has been governed and operated under an umbrella of fear, fear of the feds coming in and wreaking havoc. This fear can be seen everywhere, and it’s time (after 5 years) to begin cleaning out the rubbish. This applies to all other states as well.

Chris Thompson, bless his heart, represents the Liquor and Cannabis Board before the legislature, and he’s had a very bad week. Someone declared war on the LCB, and both the lawmakers and the industry are proposing laws to rein in their behavior, if not power. The LCB has been enforcing their rules far too strictly, and the reps have been flooded with complaints from their constituents about the LCB tactics. Some of the comments from the committee members, which are the oversight body of the LCB, are “There is a gotcha mentality in the LCB”, “Your rules are ticky-tack”, “There’s a culture of gotcha”, “There are cultural problems in the LCB”. Chris Thompson’s defense was “They’ll blame me, or the LCB, or you if something goes wrong”. Fear of the feds. Cover your ass. A new committee member asked him if he’d be happy if they granted him legal immunity, and he happily said yes. Wrong answer, of course.

It seems that a few licensees have been complaining about their competitors to the LCB, knowing that this will subject their opponent to a great deal of hassle, including a good chance of them losing their license. The LCB says they are complaint driven, and don’t have time to work out compliance issues/questions. Wrong answer again.

The committee is thinking that since the basics are working so well, and this has been a big experiment that needs time to mature, that effort should be directed towards education, listening, and adjusting the rules rather than assassinating thriving businesses. The LCB was reminded the committee can make laws that achieve that desire.

Law Enforcement is obligated to appear in these hearings, but their time-worn message of prohibition is getting old. One rep felt she had to remind the State Patrol that “marijuana is legal now in this state”. Personally, I think LE everywhere is having real problems getting with the notion they enforce (or stop enforcing) the laws the legislature sets.

So that’s my impression of the tone of the legislature. The current laws and rules were set up in a different time, the industry has risen to the challenge and succeeded, things need to be fixed, and it’s looking like government itself is causing the problems now. And, it looks like the feds are too disorganized to actually do anything, so the state is in charge. Yay.

I’ll write more about the specific bills over the next few days.

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