Washington state eyes marijuana enforcement changes after study

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Washington cannabis regulators are recommending changes in their enforcement policies after industry officials complained the state has been “heavy-handed” in its oversight.

The proposed changes come in response to a study conducted by a third-party consulting firm. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) commissioned the study.

In a conference call Thursday, LCB Director Rick Garza said based on the report’s findings the agency will recommend:

  • Creating a separate policy and legal department to make decisionmaking more efficient when interpreting laws.
  • Changing clothing policies with a “softer approach” in mind to make law enforcement personnel appear less intimidating to marijuana business owners.
  • Creating an education and outreach unit to communicate with cannabis companies about how decisions are made.

“We’ve always had a carrot-and-stick approach,” Garza said.

But the cannabis industry, he added, has long felt that law enforcement was too heavy on the stick and too light on the carrot.

The LCB commissioned the study by Chicago-based consultancy Hillard Heintze after the 2019 passage of Senate Bill 5318.

The new law is intended to reform the compliance and enforcement provisions for marijuana businesses.

The report found that, among the cannabis companies responding to the survey, primary concerns focused on how the LCB makes decisions, a lack of education and training for licensees as well as law enforcement’s approach to the industry.

The report stated that survey respondents from the cannabis industry tended to be more critical of the enforcement division than the respondents from the liquor industry.

The cannabis industry respondents were also more likely to believe regulators’ enforcement philosophy is “heavy-handed.”

– Bart Schaneman