Is the LCB stepping back from the cannabis regulation business?
Is the LCB stepping back from the cannabis regulation business? Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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Emails released in a public records request show that Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), the state’s go-to agency for regulating cannabis, may be looking to get out of the businesses of ensuring the safety of legal weed in Washington.

The LCB currently licenses private labs that test the potency and safety of legal weed in the state, but it seems that the agency may soon send the responsibility of certifying those labs to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).

Emails optained through the Washington Public Records Act between WSDA Deputy Director Kirk Robinson and the LCB show that the two agencies have been discussing the possibility of the WSDA working on lab certification since as early as January of this year. On August 4, Robinson indicated that the WSDA was preparing to request funding from the LCB for a “new marijuana lab certification program.” On August 31, Robinson emailed Peter Antolin of the LCB, writing, “Our team will also be moving forward with your team to complete an agreement on conducting the lab certifications.”

“We are having preliminary discussions with Agriculture [WSDA] about the possibility of moving that [lab certification] over to them," said Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesperson for the LCB. "As I said, it’s preliminary discussions and there’s nothing set in stone."

Hector Castro, spokesperson for the WSDA, said he could not give any details about the discussions between the two agencies. “At this point, all I can tell you is that WSDA will be playing a role on managing lab certification, but the details of how that will be done and when are still being discussed,” Castro said.

The LCB has a questionable track record with certifying cannabis labs in the state. The agency has suspended two labs in the past two years after state-commissioned audits found the labs were flouting rules and producing business-friendly results. In both instances, the audits came months after independent watchdogs had warned the state about the specific labs. In one report, auditors wrote that because of poor lab practices there was an “extremely real” possibility that unsafe weed had made it into Washington’s legal market.

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LCB’s discussions with the WSDA over lab certifications come amidst a broader pattern of the state’s chief agricultural agency taking a greater role in regulating the state’s weed. The two agencies partnered earlier this year to investigate and test for illegal pesticides on weed sold in retail stores and the WSDA runs the state’s industrial hemp program. The emails released this week show that the WSDA has also created a new “cannabis coordinator” position within the agency.

The WSDA’s involvement with cannabis makes a lot of sense on paper. Pot is an agricultural product—although our state has yet to legally recognize is as a crop like Oregon and California have—and the WSDA has a staff of scientists with experience regulating agricultural products.

Carpenter said the partnerships on pesticide testing and possible lab certification was not part of a larger trend of the WSDA taking over the regulation of pot farms and processors.