Tomorrow morning, a committee in the state Senate will hear the confirmation of three board members overseeing the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). If the hearing was open to the public the three board members up for confirmation would likely get an earful after a year of almost relentless missteps by the state's pot regulator, but guess what? The Senate is acting entirely in private, moving to act on these confirmations without giving the public any room for comment.
That is generating anger across the weed industry, including the state's most powerful trade group, the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA). Vicki Christophersen, WACA's executive director, said in a statement that she is urging the state Senate to open up the hearing so the board members are not confirmed "for a new term without any public process or comment period."
“Our members in the regulated cannabis industry are concerned about the culture of the LCB, which is under the purview of an unelected board of directors, and whose enforcement behavior is the catalyst for bipartisan support for compliance reform this session," Christophersen said.
The hearing is tomorrow morning at the Senate's Labor and Commerce Committee which is chaired by Sen. Karen Keiser, a Democrat from Kent. I reached out to Keiser's office to hear her reason for making the confirmations private but I have yet to hear back.
The three board members up for confirmation are Jane E. Rushford, Russell D. Hauge, and Ollie A. Garrett. The board has oversight over how the over the agency's 300 employees as well as making the most important policy decisions on how to regulate pot. The LCB has been under almost constant criticism this year, thanks in large part to the decisions Garrett, Hauge, and Rushford have made.
In October, the board made a kneejerk decision to ban all infused candy, which ultimately backfired after the entire industry as well as powerful state legislators stepped in and forced the LCB to reverse their ban. Throughout the year the LCB has been plagued by reports of rampant illegal pesticide use in the industry thanks to allegedly weak LCB enforcement. Meanwhile, the state's pot tracking software is so broken that the LCB has been forced to charge their vendor thousands of dollars every day. And industry groups like WACA have been complaining that the LCB's enforcement division is unfairly punishing pot business owners for minor violations.
The LCB board members are the ultimate authority over how these policies are decided upon and enforced, meaning they should probably have to answer a few questions from the public before they get reinstated into their unelected roles overseeing this industry. I'll let you know if I hear anything back from Keiser as to why she thinks these powerful, unelected figures should be confirmed behind closed doors.
Update 12:40 p.m.:
Sen. Keiser reached out to me and said she would not open up these confirmations for public comment because she said she already provided a hearing for public comment during the last legislative session. Keiser also clarified that Hauge's term is expiring and he is not being reconfirmed.
"Confirmation hearings are not for people to come and trash people," Keiser said. "If people have a problem with Jane Rushford or Ollie Garret they should let me know. If they have a problem with the entire agency they should let me know. I have talked with the cannabis community many times and they haven’t made any statements against Jane or Ollie."
Keiser added that she is working on legislation to address concerns over LCB's policies, including the concern over LCB's enforcement practices.
"I think the enforcement issue with the cannabis community is of concern," Keiser said. "And we do have bills that will hopefully move the direction forward."