Legal Cannabis Week #8
Overflow crowds pack first I-502 forum
It was standing room only at Washington State's first marijuana rules forum, with crowds stretching out the doors and down the halls. Even before the 6 p.m. meet-and-greet, the lobby was packed wall to wall, and Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster opened the evening with an honest and simple "wow."
The Board had not anticipated these numbers. Attendance at alcohol-related rulemaking has never approached these numbers.
Not only are citizens interested in providing critical input into Washington State's legal cannabis rules, let's not overlook the fact that this hearing was the first time in recorded history such an event transpired. A state, through its people — its ultimate authority — opted out of the worldwide war on cannabis and directed its agents to intentionally listen to its people and build unto them a new archetype for their beneficial flower, and this was the first official listening sesh.
I am still shocked by our new reality. I am figuratively beside myself, and not because hash oil makes me see double. I certainly wanted to see this hearing in person. What an absolutely historic moment. What a long journey. What a hot effing room.
Our people spoke, and I felt so proud. Thoughtful things, critical things, new things, old things, funny things, not so funny things — beautiful things our people spoke. It felt as though after forty years of war against a culture and a plant, we declared truce and began to speak with less fear of retribution. I thought it a deeply moving thing to behold and felt more satisfaction after each person spoke.
Some themes that recurred in public comment:
- More licenses preferred. First and foremost, citizens are concerned they may be left out of the legal cannabis industry. Some took the not-entirely-random estimates from OFM as gospel and think we'll have 100 pot producers. Some fear big corporations will horn in on our cottage industry. Many advocated to keep the "little guy" in mind, to understand that marijuana is means for many poor folk in this state.
- Banking is a primary hurdle to implementation. In 1986, the drug war brought us federal money laundering laws, making it illegal to deposit "drug money" into a bank account. Failing to solve this puzzle piece may doom the entire system.
- Don't leave out cannabis convicts. Some of our best talent is feloniously convicted, and double-punishing victims of the drug war is retributive policy.
- Protect licensee information from the feds. Some can not imagine a system of licensing that can practically protect personal information from the prying eyes of the federal government. Thankfully, our state legislature proposed exactly such a system for medical cannabis patient registration last year.
- Taxes will drive costs too high to eliminate the unlicensed cannabis market. Many people think they are not skilled or practiced enough to operate a cannabis business on profit margins similar to other tax-paying business sectors.
- Strive to eliminate the "black market," by which most speakers mean all current cannabis sales where the seller does not possess a medical cannabis authorization. At least one person "stood up" for this market and defended those who illegally sell pot to non-patients.
- Protect or co-opt the medical marijuana industry. Numerous people want to continue to engage in a largely-tolerated grey-market medical cannabis industry. They want to Liquor Board to guarantee their future in some fashion. Some asked the board to call upon the expertise of this industry when making rules for legal cannabis, or to guarantee licenses to these perceived-as-quasi-legal operations.
The next hearing is tomorrow, Thursday, January 24, 2013 at Seattle City Hall from 6 p.m. The room will be larger and more comfortable, with effective temperature control and more air flow. See you there!
Forum audio posted, site inundated with downloads
The liquor control board posted an audio file of last night's forum and promptly brought their web site to a crawl as interested parties rushed to download the 190-meg file.
At a bit (or a byte) over one kilobyte per second, those not present will know by tomorrow what transpired yesterday. In the mean time, I used a telephone to suggest WSLCB upload the audio off-site to a location with more throughput — like archive.org.
What a positive problem to have: more public interest than the policy pros predicted.
Public comment cheat sheet for the unread
At the first I-502 public forum, several speakers brought up issues that indicated they have not read Initiative 502, do not understand the authority of the Liquor Control Board, and otherwise don't know to whom they should speak to about their issues. Here's a handy cheat sheet to give to the unread after, or before, they give public comment.
- "Hemp should be legal or licensed." Hemp is completely unregulated in the State of Washington. Asking for specific licenses to grow hemp is a waste of time; just start growing it. My advice is to start with food stuff — hemp sprouts and seeds — before attempting a fiber industry.
- "Protect the medical cannabis industry." The liquor board has no authority over the grey-market medical cannabis industry. The legislature is the people who can make or break your industry in the next ninety days, and if you ain't defending your flank in that forum, you are mixed up.
- "The taxes won't work based on the following sketchy math numbers." If you know someone buying pot at $3,000 wholesale, be a friend and send around a sign up sheet. Also, assume that producers can possess a processor license and effectively avoid one layer of taxation. Get comfortable with the notion of $3-6 per gram wholesale cannabis, plus or minus.
- "I would like to advertise my services to the room." Um, awesome dude, thanks. We appreciate your input.
BECU decides I am an acceptable risk
Last week I had some trouble opening an account at the state's largest credit union. On Friday at 4 p.m., I received a call from a BECU employee who said that, upon reviewing my account application, they decided to open an account for me. Ecstatic, I went in and, sure enough, opened my account, assisted by super helpful folks.
Blake explained that they need to be vigilant in complying with federal banking laws, which prohibit banks from depositing money from dispensaries, pot growers and similar businesses that handle cannabis. Sometimes their employees err on the side of caution, which can be obviously frustrating for folks in my position. At the end of the day, their risk assessment department looked it over and decided I was an acceptable risk.
I am extremely grateful to BECU for responding to me in a timely manner, for treating me like a neighbor and a customer, and ultimately for making me feel like I was heard — a deeply satisfying emotion.
Senate committee concerned cannabis may "disinhibit" sex offenders
Northwest News Network
Monday was MLK Day, so the state Senate Law and Justice Committee heard testimony on a handful of bills to screw poor people. Public defenders are too easily obtained. Anyone on public assistance can get them, and as Senator Mike Carrell knows, the royal "they" give out food stamps to anyone who asks. Even people who own an automobile can qualify for a public defender! Indigent defense should be harder to get, because wealth-hiding ingrates are mooching off the system.
Thus appears to be the tone of the 2013 Washington State Senate, newly controlled by the Republican party after Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon switched caucuses in exchange for the top two leadership positions.
SB 5010 removes the protections of Initiative 502 from those on probation, allowing judges to re-criminalize cannabis for a small portion of our population. The bill is sponsored by Senators Sheldon, Carrell and Padden, and because it does not amend the statutory language of I-502, it requires only a majority vote, not the two-thirds supermajority required to amend an initiative within two years of enactment.
The primary argument for the bill seems to be that cannabis is a "disinhibitor" and, just like alcohol impairs judgment, so too does pot. With sex offenders on probation in our communities, we must allow judges to prohibit cannabis use by anyone on probation lest molesters smoke pot and start to think it's okay to molest children. Department of Corrections community custody statistics show 15,311 probationers as of last month, 2,944 of which are sex offenders.
Testifying in favor of the bill were Tom McBride, Washington Association of Prosecutors; Lisa Johnson, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Special Assault Unit; and Anmarie Alyard, Department of Corrections. Candace Bock from Association of Washington Cities signed in supporting the bill, but did not testify.
Testifying as neutral on the bill was Ezra Eickmeyer from Washington Cannabis Association. Eickmeyer, who operates a medical cannabis authorization clinic, requested an amendment to exempt those with medical cannabis authorizations from the bill's deleterious effects.
Testifying in opposition to the bill were Jeff Gilmore, Olympia Medical Group and me, Ben Livingston, Center for Legal Cannabis. The argument against consisted mainly of "the citizens just voted to legalize pot, dude."
In sum, a rhetorical question: is it just my impatience, or do others tire of hearing comparisons between potheads and sex offenders in our legislative discourse?
Cannabis legislation overview
The following bills were loaded into the legislative pipe line:
- HB 1084 seeks to clean up the medical cannabis catastrophe of the 2012 session. Sponsored by Rep. Sherry Appleton, it is known as the Ric Smith Memorial Act.
- SJM 8000 requests that the federal government reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug.
- SB 5010 disallows probationers the legal cannabis protections of I-502.
- HB 1051 disallows state transportation facilities to be named after a handful of things, including anything pot-related.
- Draft S-0580 disallows medical cannabis purchases with EBT cards.
Week in review
Sharon Foster, Rick Garza and Pat Kohler from the Liquor Control Board answered many I-502 questions for the Senate Law and Justice Committee who, like many Washingtonians, don't know its specifics and haven't read the law to learn. For the record, Woody Guthrie's "Roll on Columbia" is already our state folk song.
Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and learned next to nothing about federal plans to mess with Washington State. Inslee said the number one concern is how to stop Washington pot from leaving the state.
A group of investors headed by Seattle restaurateur Marcus Charles retained lobbyist Vicki Christophersen to work the Liquor Control Board implementation process and any legislation touching on legal cannabis or medical cannabis. Christophersen represents several large health care businesses, the Boys and Girls Club, the Refuse and Recycling Association and WGU online university.
Traditional farmers are hesitant to switch to cannabis production at such an uncertain point in history.
Businessperson Albert Harrison hopes to convince the Liquor Control Board to allow for his newly-incorporated "cannabis exchange." To that end he hired lobbyist David Ducharme, who also represents builder BD Lawson Partners, the Distilled Spirits Council and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.
In the second federal case following Washington State dispensary raids, Craig Dieffenbach was sentenced to six years in prison. Dieffenbach agreed to assist the government in its investigation of others, similar to his plea deal in the '90s when he was "caught up" in a cocaine-trafficking case. Co-defendant Jing Mo will be sentenced next month in downtown Seattle.
Hawaii State House Speaker Joe Souki introduced a bill to legalize cannabis.
Storefront dispensaries are definitely legal in California after their Supreme Court refused to hear a government appeal.
The City of Bothell paid $40,000 to pot grower Eric Levine for illegally raiding his home in 2008.