The Executive Director of The Cannabis Alliance, Lara Kaminsky and the new lobbyist for The Alliance were invited to a meeting with the Department of Ecology (DOE) in September. The Alliance and a few other industry representatives were in attendance as well as folks from the Department of Health (DOH), the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), and the Governor's office.
Top three takeaways:
- All agencies, offices, and representatives present at the meeting appear open to -- if not in favor of -- moving the accreditation responsibility to the DOE. This is a multi-agency effort, and all agencies involved seem receptive to holding up their part. Most importantly, the DOE is cautiously willing to take on some of that responsibility with the recognition that cannabis testing as a subject matter presents unique challenges their agency has not faced before, and the dynamics of the cannabis industry are in many ways not in common with the types of labs they usually deal with (water testing and spill testing labs are typically private companies contracted by municipalities, not contracted by private manufacturers of commercial goods). The DOE has a $98,000 one-time budget proviso to fund the creation of a written report due to the legislature by January. That report is to detail the problems faced by the QA testing sector of the cannabis industry and present possible agency-driven solutions as they relate to accreditation. It is one of 15+ reports the DOE has due this year on topics otherwise not related to cannabis, and they intend to deliver their cannabis report on time. It is not a rule making or a legislative proposal, and there is no requirement for the agency to seek public input. That said, they are appreciative of the Alliance's willingness to provide insight and support, which is not something they typically get much of from other private-sector stakeholder groups they interact with.
- The DOE was receptive to the notion -- even offered it up themselves -- that "laboratory accreditation" on its own is insufficient for achieving the goals that we apparently have for our cannabis labs. This is a conversation The Alliance, within the Science and Standards Committee, has discussed at length. Accreditation is only one part of a multi-prong effort needed to oversee and promote good quality assurance testing. Proficiency testing, in particular, is badly lacking in the cannabis industry where we don't have access to competitive, professional, third-party PT Programs that use samples of real cannabis matrix. Some members of the DOE even spoke to the effect that PT is part-and-parcel to accreditation, and could become part of the DOE's recommendations to the legislature. Everyone wants to see good PT programs using cannabis samples become available commercially, but the DOE cannot compel businesses to offer services. Because of the federal limitations on inter-state transfers, and because the state of Washington is a small market for cannabis PT, a commercial solution may not arrive via natural market forces. It may be that the agency creates a PT program (something they have not done before) or it could be that the agency puts out an RFP for a contractor to create a PT within certain criteria, either of which would require the agency to spend considerable money, which dovetails into our third takeaway...
- Funding is an important consideration that will require our lobby power. The LCB is formally proposing to the legislature that the DOE's future cannabis accreditation program be funded by a license fee increase amounting to $109 per licensee or an expected $600,000 over two years (therefore supposedly temporary) to start the program at DOE, after which time the program would be launched and funded by some other mechanism not yet described. The Alliance, and others at the meeting, spoke up about this and insisted that this not be funded on the backs of the cannabis farmers. This is a public health and safety issue and should be funded by the government, not licensees. Quality Assurance is about consumer protection and consumer confidence, and the more consumer confidence we have, the more we take cannabis sales away from the illicit market. A 0.2% increase in 502 sales would pay for the proposed $600k biennium in excise tax alone, and conservative estimates put the size of the illicit market in WA at about 30% of the total market. Government agencies like DOE and LCB do not have the authority to increase license fees, institute taxes, or allocate general funds, only our elected representatives can do those things. The biggest thing the Alliance and its membership can do this session to support the creation of a new program for cannabis labs is to advocate in favor of a robust funding mechanism for it.
Handout from DOE provided at meeting: Current State of Cannabis Lab Accreditation & Report Focus Areas.