Legislators will have to prepare for some changes during the upcoming session of the Washington Legislature, starting with a remote format for many meetings and hearings due to COVID-19 precautions.
The high learning curve and expected technical challenges can change the way legislators, lobbyists, employees and affected citizens run the business of the state.
“It’s changing how and when we interact with officials and senators,” said Crystal Oliver, executive director of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, a group of about 60 cannabis growers. “It is no longer possible to come into their office for 10 minutes between committee hearings, and it is also not possible to have a brief interview with a representative or senator while walking down the hall. It really changes the dynamics of these ongoing conversations. “
At the same time, the format can improve accessibility for people who have had difficulty getting to Olympia to witness, observe, or discuss guidelines.
“This year it will be much easier for the people on the east side of the state to get in direct contact with their representatives and senators,” said Oliver.
Chris Marr, the cannabis industry lobbyist, former senator and former member of the Liquor and Cannabis Board, is expecting an odd session – and possibly a shorter one.
He said the cannabis industry has done well in past sessions by asking passionate stakeholders to testify about critical bills.
“Some previous bills are often affected by a large turnout from cannabis licensees who have a lot of emotion,” he said.
Marr also expects legislators to pay more attention to cannabis issues, but for unusual reasons.
While many Washington companies have ceased or changed their services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis has been declared essential, resulting in significant sales and government revenue thanks to a 37 percent excise tax. Many in the industry have wished that this number could be lowered, but Marr said it is possible that lawmakers could propose an increase to bring in additional taxpayer dollars.
“Cannabis is one of the few bright spots not only in a fiscal year but also in a fiscal year in crisis,” he said.
Lara Kaminsky, former executive director of the Cannabis Alliance, has been asked to assist in the alliance’s political endeavors.
“The past year has really brought to light the need for community, and our ability to be successful depends so much on our ability to work together,” she said. “After a year of finding it essential, there are many areas in the law that need to be interpreted, adjusted and clarified.”
The Cannabis Alliance, a group of professionals from different areas of the cannabis community, set out its legislative agenda in November. One of his efforts is to request the creation of a state cannabis research commission.
“Establishing this commission helps us stay at the forefront of best practices on farming practices, occupational safety, crop protection and more, and meet our goals for an important and sustainable industry,” said Kaminsky.
She said the alliance will also seek to exempt authorized medical patients from paying excise taxes and continue to push for every adult to be able to grow personal quantities of cannabis.
“Giving people the right to grow at home has several positive benefits for individuals and the industry,” she said. “We are the only rule of law that does not allow this. Not only does this make sense on a practical level, it also allows people to grow at home to increase their knowledge, understanding and interest in growing cannabis and.” make them better informed consumers. “
She said that brewing beer helped boost the craft beer industry, and that home-grown cannabis can do the same.
Marr said home growth has its supporters but has traditionally been a tough sell for the larger legislation, especially since it is already allowed for certain medical patients. More access could harm the industry and also pose greater challenges for law enforcement.
Oliver hopes to increase the Washington Department of Agriculture’s responsibilities, particularly on areas like pesticide standards and the need to implement a certified cannabis program. You and other members hope again for the official recognition of cannabis cultivation as an agricultural activity that allows tax deductions and tax exemptions.
State officials and advocacy groups are also focusing on justice issues, including efforts to bring more people of color into ownership and leadership.
“This year, representatives have been asked to narrow legislative proposals because of the challenges their staff faces in navigating a completely remote meeting,” said Oliver. “You have been asked to focus on issues that promote justice, respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, drive economic recovery and address the climate crisis. When we advance our priorities, we work to align our issues with those priorities To bring connection. “
The LCB has discussed justice, as has a government-created Justice Task Force that was authorized after last year’s meeting.
The State Group should start meeting in April to discuss recommendations for this upcoming meeting. However, due to pandemic disruptions, they did not meet until November, so Marr is unsure if she can do her job in time for an effective discussion.
Kaminsky said the alliance is also looking to step up equity efforts.
“Justice is an issue that runs through all of the work we do, improving patient access and research into safe product and working conditions. That fits right in with this policy,” she said.
The Alliance and the Sungrowers organization have been talking to lawmakers for much of the past year, particularly members of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee and the Senate Labor and Commerce Committees, where cannabis legislation needs to be passed.
“Legislators have become wiser in their understanding of our problems,” said Kaminsky. “They ask informed questions that really help us explain our reasons for sharing the topics that matter to us. We’ve even let previously resilient lawmakers take part in farm tours and virtual tours that are helping us demystify the industry for them. Now that we have six years, not to mention most states have some form of legalization for cannabis, we are slowly winning hearts and minds. “
Joe Butler is a longtime marketing writer and editor at The Spokesman Review. He is an enthusiast of Star Wars, memorial spoon collecting, and the Oxford comma.