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Washington State Prepares for Cannabis Testing and Packaging Law Reform

By Alexander Beadle
Published: Aug 20, 2018   

Credit: Wonderlane on Flickr

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Washington State has long been one of the leaders in cannabis regulatory reform. In 1998, following a similar move in California two years prior, the state introduced a measure for the legalization of medicinal cannabis to the ballot. The state’s population voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new laws, with 59% of voters supporting the legislation. The new laws decriminalized and legalized the use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis by patients who could show documentation from their doctor that recommended the use of cannabis.

In 2012 the state once again became an early champion of further cannabis law reform. In early November 2012, Washington and Colorado voters successfully passed an amendment to their respective states’ existing cannabis legislation that would legalize the use, possession, and cultivation of modest amounts of cannabis for recreational users. In Washington, the vote resulted in 56% of voters, totaling over 1.7 million people, turning out in favor of recreational cannabis laws.

Washington State’s cannabis industry reported over $1 billion in sales in 2017, and as a result of the taxation policy on cannabis products, this generated over $300 million in taxes for the state in the same timeframe.

With the state generating so much in income from the sales of cannabis, there are rising levels of discontent within the community of cannabis users in Washington who feel that the state should be re-investing more of this money into the cannabis industry to enable it to improve. Some recent incidents involving the recall of cannabis products that were found to contain unacceptable levels of pesticides have only stoked this discontent.

In response to these incidents, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) released a Notice of Rulemaking on August 8th that states the WSLCB is intending to review their cannabis testing requirements to see if adjustment is necessary. California underwent a similar review in mid-2017 and after examining the findings launched a new three-phase plan to reinforce their testing standards over the course of 2018. The new Californian standards are widely regarded as the strictest in the country, and the issues they address could serve as a model for any proposed changes to Washington’s cannabis testing program.

Currently, Washington cannabis quality testing law requires that cannabis samples undergo third-party screening for unapproved pesticides, abnormal levels of common heavy metal contaminants, and the presence of harmful mycotoxins. It is not required that the third-party laboratories analyze the terpene content of the plant for printing on the product packaging, but information about the total THC and CBD concentration is required.

The WSLCB emphasized in their announcement that they are very much in the early stages of rulemaking, and that “no rule language is offered at this stage of the process”, so it is impossible to do more than speculate about the exact nature of any changes. However, the WSLCB did release a list of topics that are being considered as part of the quality testing and product labeling review. The topics named were:

Lot and batch sizes;

Fields of testing and pass/fail level adjustments;

Potency testing requirements;

Pesticide testing requirements for all cannabis products;

Heavy metal testing requirements;

Sample deduction requirements;

General testing rule requirements;

Product, THC serving limits, and packaging requirements.

The list of topics concludes with the addition of “other related rule changes that may be necessary or advisable”, so this is by no means an exhaustive list of all that is being considered.

There is a period lasting from now until October 24, 2018, where members of the public can submit comments or potential proposals to the WSLCB for consideration. A list of the proposed rule changes is expected to be published on or after October 31, which will be followed by a further comment period and a public hearing on the rules before anything is inducted into law.

Those interested in making comments or suggestions during this comment period are advised to send a letter including the notice reference number WSR 18-17-041 and your comments to Joanna Eide, the Policy and Rules Coordinator at the WSLCB, via one of the methods listed below. 

By email:   rules@lcb.wa.gov

By fax:     360-664-9689

By mail:     Rules Coordinator

                Liquor and Cannabis Board

    P.O. Box 43080

    Olympia, WA 98504-3080


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