Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) recently added another bill to his already impressive list of idiotic, regressive policy ideas: allowing cities to ban pot businesses in places based on preexisting alcohol impact areas (AIA).
The AIA program, for those who missed that dark chapter of our state's history, was cooked up in 1999 as a way to fight chronic street inebriation. Administered by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), it bans the sale of certain types of booze that are especially popular with chronic street drunks.
That's right, it's not a ban on all high-ABV booze, it's a ban specifically on alcoholic drinks that homeless people gravitate to, and it applies only to stores, not bars. So an economically disadvantaged drinker can't buy Colt 45 at the Saveway, but a brogrammer pre-funcing for a Sounders game can grab an imperial IPA from Cone and Steiner with no issue. The first AIA in Seattle went into effect in Pioneer Square in 2003, and others exist in Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, and Spokane.
As anyone who spends time in Pioneer Square can tell you, AIAs didn't do a damn thing to solve chronic street inebriation. Instead, they only made life harder for people already living hard lives. The program is classist, racist, anti-homeless garbage at its worst.
Baumgartner is framing his proposal as a safety issue. "This is a common sense fix with serious public safety impact," he wrote in a press release announcing the bill. "The recreational market is still young and in need of updates. This is just another option for local cities to address public safety concerns."
Except that there is no evidence that legalizing pot has increased crime or created a public-safety hazard. Teens don't have easier access to it, and there is no proof that pot stores are nuisance businesses. There is actually more evidence to the contrary.
To wit, pot has been a boon to the Spokane economy, said Crystal Oliver, a Spokane-area grower. City leaders, she told me, see pot stores as a good thing for the city, especially in "distressed" areas. "Bringing in a business that is going to have foot traffic would be an overall improvement to that part of downtown," she said.
According to the Spokesman-Review, a Spokane church is driving the legislation. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes is unhappy that pot store Lucky Leaf opened nearby and blames the store for an increase in aggressive panhandling and other crime. Lacking support from the Spokane City Council, the church found an ally in Baumgartner.
But they may have trouble finding others sympathetic to their plight. At a May 12 special meeting of the senate's Commerce and Labor Committee to discuss the draft legislation, two committee members walked out, according to Kevin Oliver, president of Washington's NORML chapter, who was present. In an interview, Senator Bob Hasegawa, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said: "I have many concerns about the bill, in part because there are a lot more issues at play than what is addressed in it. I got the sense that alcohol impact areas are not the correct nexus to address the issues raised in testimony we heard in Spokane last week. While there is perhaps an opening for more public input at the local level before marijuana businesses open, I think a lot of the concerns raised were stemming from preconceived notions about what impacts marijuana businesses may have on a community, as well as, if not even more so, issues around mental-health treatment and social services offered in the immediate vicinity."
The last thing we need to do is associate pot with a socially regressive policy at the behest of one Spokane church. There's enough of that in cannabis already, thank you very much.
WSLCB Finally Sets Rules for Pesticide Levels
On May 18, the WSLCB passed an emergency rule setting the state's first pesticide action levels for cannabis. It also approved draft language for a permanent rule regarding product recalls, moving to make an earlier emergency rule permanent. The actions come in the aftermath of Pestgate, the recent snafu over the discovery of disallowed pesticides detected on Washington cannabis.
The action levels are modeled on Oregon's existing ones, with a blanket .1 ppm limit for all compounds not covered by that list. The Washington CannaBusiness Association welcomed the limits, citing them as a vast improvement over the previous system of zero tolerance.
"Pesticide action levels are standard in the food industry and other industries that create products for human consumption," the group stated in a press release. "Previously, tolerance standards were applied to pesticides in marijuana that were out of alignment with analogous industries, did not recognize the presence of pesticides in our natural environment, and were impossible to verify in the lab."
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will also be adopting the proposed thresholds for their “medically compliant” products. Kristi Weeks, policy counsel at the DOH, said the zero-tolerance model was keeping medically compliant products off the market because producers weren’t willing to risk losing a whole crop over a trace amount of pesticide.
“Also, we weren’t giving the labs a level to test for, so they could have (conceivably) tested to 500 parts per million, found nothing and called it good even if the product actually contained 490 ppm,” Weeks wrote in an e-mail.
The two WSLCB rules are integral to the overall consumer-safety framework for cannabis because, without action levels, it was nearly impossible for the WSLCB to demonstrate a clear reason for a recall. Though the state did issue stop-sale orders late in 2015 to two growers whose cannabis showed evidence of disallowed pesticides, there has not yet been an official recall of any products—only a smattering of voluntary ones within the industry.