WA NORML 2017 State Of The Session Report

State of the Session

By Bailey Hirschburg

While the special session called by Gov. Jay Inslee wrapped up on July 20th, the majority of Washington NORML’s lobby work was completed in early May. The best summary of our WA NORML’s legislative impact and agenda process is that it was appropriately ambitious. While several goals, personal cultivation for adults and social use, remain unaddressed, valuable progress towards consumer safety, patient access, industrial hemp, and marijuana research was achieved. Changes for licensees have varied from useful to burdensome, but overall the state legislature is invested in maintaining legal access and possession for adults.

As an advocacy group, WA NORML is gaining greater standing and familiarity, with legislators who have begun recommending us to constituents with questions about cannabis issues, to legislators speaking frankly about their own cannabis use or impressions of their districts, or with our position on the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB)’s Cannabis Advisory Council. Today, other groups have represented the medical patient or licensee community longer, but WA NORML has grown to be the most experienced recreational consumer lobby in the state.

Beyond the direct lobbying of the state legislature on nearly two dozen bills, throughout the session I represented WA NORML at events, organized a lobby day and reception, engaged with media coverage, wrote editorial articles and legislative updates to Exec. Director Kevin Oliver and board members, developed familiarity/relationships with specific lawmakers, staff, fellow lobbying groups, and engaged with LCB enforcement, legislative, and rules staff on current practices and active legislation. There are also clear ways to improve PAC effectiveness with a set meeting schedule or issue-focused workgroups.

The future of legal cannabis in Washington is secure. State agencies and key officials are committed to state legal access and economic footprint. The voices for prohibition or criminalization of personal use in Olympia are few and isolated. There is lawmakers receptiveness to every key issue we’ve addressed. Some, like legal sharing/gifting of cannabis had enough support to move this year. Other issues, like access for student-patients, and personal cultivation moved some distance, while social use legislation didn’t find a sponsor in time.

However, sharing/gifting and removal of industrial hemp from the controlled substances act are positive changes that represent “low hanging buds” of positive reforms. Personal cultivation and social use face stronger opposition. Both are divisive within law enforcement and even the legal marijuana industry. Our developing mission to include small, local marijuana business is gradually being incorporated as we develop a portfolio of relevant lobby issues.

Nonetheless, WA NORML is well positioned to speak more forcefully for consumers going forward. Through a seat on the Cannabis Advisory Council organized by the LCB, and through rallying stakeholder testimony and shaping a public narrative as the LCB’s personal cultivation report progresses. Finally, we’re identifying lawmakers to fundraise for or make direct contributions to in the upcoming election cycle. In short, we’re growing in all the ways a successful lobbying operation should.

There is always ways to learn and improve. The two significant ones are to get an earlier start scheduling our events and anticipating legislation’s trajectory.

As I was hired the first day of this year’s session and spent some time identifying who to meet with, only to find their calendar full, or significant legislation already introduced. Scheduling also impacted our lobbying day, which drew a large crowd and allowed us to press for action on a variety of issues, but was past a cutoff for new bills to be introduced, and had lawmakers working late and largely unable to attend our evening reception.

A better posture towards initial scheduling will further our influence on bills. And such a schedule should take into account not only legislation’s current position but who or what bodies it will need to clear in the following days and weeks. Because next year’s legislative session is short, the schedule for progress is similarly shortened. While the lobby proposal budgeted for 18 hours a week, the future may necessitate more hours each week for a shorter session.

These changes allow direct lobbying efforts to focus on priority issues. Some board members have already contributed in the ways described, but this will have greater impact as it becomes routine.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank you all for your support and trust in this project. I’m not a big cannabis social media personality. I don’t think we need more of them as badly as we need more regular lobbyists, in more statehouses, speaking up for more consumers. The word revolution is thrown around a lot in politics. That said, WA NORML’s lobby efforts are a revolution that blooms from NORML’s tradition of citizen activism to include regular consumer lobby efforts.

The cannabis consumer has lots of reasons not to speak up. I work a second job, and overheard one coworker recently tell another “Sure, I smoke pot, but I’m not going to, like, talk about it.” I know exactly why they were hesitating, because I have too. There are many reasons not to speak up. But we deserve to be heard in government, even if speaking entails risk. Thanks to WA NORML, you have given all consumers, and me, a louder voice than ever in the pot politics of Evergreen State. I’m humbled, and simultaneously certain better changes can be achieved.

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