What you might not know about the cannabis business, and how it’s regulated, @ North Highline Unincorporated Area Council’s May meeting
By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor
The cannabis business and how it’s regulated comprised the spotlight topic at tonight’s May meeting of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council. Here’s what happened:
STATE LIQUOR AND CANNABIS BOARD: Lt. EP Hackenberg handles this region. He noted that there are seven stores in the White Center/North Highline area.
He showed the income and taxes paid by just those seven stores – public information by terms of the measure that legalized cannabis – $5.5 million in taxes last year alone:
There were two processing facilities during the year – West Coast Premium Products and Kush Mountain Gardens – but Lt. Hackenberg wasn’t sure if they are still in operation. Their “tax footprint” is/was negligible, though.
One big task for his agency, compliance checks:
So far this year they’re at 86 percent compliance, but historically it’s been more like 95 percent. He also acknowledged the recent robberies targeting cannabis retailers – including ones that resulted in three deaths, one budtender, two robbers – and said they offer safety tips to shops. (That advice is available on the LCB website.) He clarified that his agency is not a primary law-enforcement agency so they don’t respond to or investigate crimes like these – local law enforcement does. Then he added that there’s one thing his agency has in common with local law enforcement – they’re hiring.
In Q&A, NHUAC’s Liz Giba wondered if safety measures would be codified/regulated, or just left up to stores. For one, they are required to have cameras, Lt. Hackenberg said, but he hasn’t seen any evidence that anything else will be required. “We want to give them options for how they can be safer in running their business.” NHUAC’s Barbara Dobkin asked if he had any data on store holdups and other crimes in this area. He didn’t have a specific NH breakdown. And there have been different robbery groups/individuals – it’s not just one group responsible for all.
Next up was Officer Erick Thomas from the LCB. He was there to talk about the education/enforcement division. He showed the numbers for liquor and cannabis businesses – the former far outnumber the latter:
The White Center area is in the jurisdiction of one of the 15 statewide cannabis-enforcement officers – he is that one right now, responsible for 285 licensed locations – and one of the 48 retail-liquor enforcement officers, who has 127 licensed locations to keep tabs on. Discussion with him clarified that there are five operating marijuana stores, and one processor, in the White Center/Top Hat area. WALCB also has “compliance consultants,” two of whom work in King County. Here’s what officers like him do:
He said they check 7 locations a month, and location often helps determine the priority – a store not far from a school, for example, woudd be a high priority. If he gets a complaint about a business, he has 60 days to investigate. He also does “closing checks” during regularly scheduled night shifts each month. The division also spends many hours on education, “We put a large focus on education as part of enforcement.”
Want to file a complaint? You can do that online. You can do it anonymously but as an officer, he prefers to be able to talk with the complainant, to get more detail. If he knows who the complainant is, he can circle around and explain how the investigation turned out.
In Q/A, Officer Thomas was asked about the plans for a menthol-cigarette ban. He said he does not expect that to be a problem – they managed to handle the flavored-vape ban, and this is likely to be similar. Next question: Say you get a complaint about a bar serving minors. How do you investigate? That will often lead to a compliance check, or even surveillance, if he has information on a specific employee and a specific time of day. He investigated that kind of complaint in North Highline in 2020 and that generated a violation, which can result in a $500 fine or a multi-day license suspension. He said the business failed multiple compliance checks and could have lost their license; instead, they sold the business, and now there is a new licensee in the same location that has passed its checks.
What about hookah lounges? asked NHUAC’s Pat Price. The one that’s been the site of some issues in the area is on their radar, Officer Thomas said. They “continue to work” that spot, he said. He also noted the Taradise Café situation, in which “many agencies” were involved, the county found a violation that closed it, and all that unfolded before its proprietor’s untimely death; now the building is in different hands. He also was asked about the unlicensed cannabis stores in White Center in the past; WALCB was involved in that. Two different owners. two raids, the second one was King County-led, he said. They got a tobacco license, applied for a liquor license, but that didn’t work out when an investigation revealed ties to past ownership. Overall, Thomas said, they work rather stealthily – no uniforms, no marked cars, “you don’t see us around .. a lot of times customers, employees don’t even know we’re in there observing operations.”
Overall, “we want successful retail operations in our community,” Thomas underscored.
Do they get many complaints? They’re starting to ramp up, but less than a dozen so far this year. He added later in the meeting that he had just done compliance checks and six out of seven went well.
King County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Kennamer, a regular guest, couldn’t attend the meeting, but NHUAC did also hear from Marissa Jauregui, who coordinates the local Coalition for Drug-Free Youth. She talked about youth trends and said her organization works with Cascade Middle School and Evergreen High School, and has worked in the White Center area for a decade.
Seeing family and/or friends use substances influences young people’s choices, she noted. She also showed results of a survey showing that substance use is up among local youth in the past year:
Why are they using? Many reasons:
Understanding is vital when approaching conversations about this with youth. She also talked about the physical facts of dependence and addiction. Cannabis is becoming “more commonly used about youth people …. (because of) a misperception that you can’t become addicted.” Smoking, vaping, and dabbing are the most common ways youth use cannabis. It affects memory, learning, sports performance, even a risk of psychosis and schizophrenia with heavier use. Regarding alcohol, memory and learning are affected, and in this case, the younger you start drinking, the more likely you are to become dependent. And then there’s nicotine – something that youth start using without knowing much about it, and then they unwittingly become dependent. It’s often used in vaping – with a lot of other dangerous mystery chemicals.
She also mentioned fentanyl since there was a recent discovery of cannabis laced with it – you might ingest it unknowingly, but “the risk of overdose is strong.” It’s also showing up in pills.
When does the coalition meet? she was asked. There is a big event next Tuesday, online:
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Price noted that the White Center Library is open again and trying to rebuild attendance, and the White Center Library Guild is looking for new members (watch for more on that soon). The guild will have its sidewalk sale at the library July 15th and 17th. … Inbetween, on July 16th, the White Center Kiwanis will host its pancake breakfast at the WC Eagles HQ, 8 am-noon … Giba also reminded everyone that the King County Council continues working through the North Highline Subarea Plan (among other planning matters) and that she encourages attendance at the May 24th and June 28th meetings, online, 9:30 am.
NEXT NHUAC MEETING: 7 pm June 2nd, online, before summer hiatus.
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