A Washington State Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to set the state up to allow interstate marijuana commerce, pending a federal policy change.
The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee passed the legislation on a voice vote. It now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. The action comes one week after the panel first met to discuss the reform, in addition to proposals concerning cannabis-related employment protections and social equity.
The House Regulated Substances & Gaming Committee was also scheduled to tackle a companion version of the interstate commerce bill, sponsored by that panel’s chair, later on Tuesday afternoon, but the meeting was cancelled.
In the Senate, the legislation is being sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers (R). It would give the governor of Washington authority to enter into agreements with other legal states to permit imports and exports between state-licensed cannabis businesses.
The committee chair, Sen. Karen Keiser (D), said that it was important to take “early action” on the legislation, especially given that it “seems to have pretty substantial support.”
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D) agreed that it “makes good sense to have this bill, as it just makes sure that our state is ready in case there is any interstate commerce agreements.” But she said she would be voting without a recommendation at this stage because “we need to make sure that we actually address social equity” in the industry first. She is sponsoring cannabis equity legislation that also recently received a hearing, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote.
Keiser replied that she believes the interstate commerce bill and other marijuana reforms would be held in the Rules Committee until the legislature has a chance to advance equity legislation as well.
Under the interstate commerce proposal, products that come from out-of-state businesses would be required to comply with Washington regulations, including those related to packaging and labeling.
However, it would only take effect under one of two conditions: 1) if there’s a federal law change “to allow for the interstate transfer of cannabis” between legal businesses, or 2) if the U.S. Department of Justice issues an opinion “allowing or tolerating” marijuana commerce across state lines.
If either of those conditions are met, state regulators would be required to provide written notice of the federal policy change, as well as any state-level “statutory changes necessary to authorize the sale, delivery, and receipt of cannabis” from out-of-state companies. Regulators would also need to adopt necessary rules for cross-border trade.
The legislation represents the latest state-level attempt to prepare for eventual interstate cannabis commerce, even as marijuana remains federally prohibited. California’s governor signed a similar measure last year. Before that, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed interstate marijuana commerce legislation into law in 2019.
On the other side of the country, New Jersey’s Senate president filed a similar proposal last year, but it has not yet been enacted.
Meanwhile, in Washington, lawmakers have also already worked to advance other cannabis reforms this session.
For example, there’s a bill from Keiser that would make it so employers in the state would be prohibited from discriminating against most job applicants for off-duty marijuana use or for testing positive for non-psychoactive THC metabolites.
Saldaña’s equity bill includes provisions to change the way that regulators are authorized to approve additional licensees. The Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) would be able to add equity retailers to the program based on population trends, and those retailers could be located in any municipality that allows marijuana businesses to operate, rather than being confined to a specific location that the board assigns.
Separately, state lawmakers are also again considering drug possession penalties and related issues this session.
Following a state Supreme Court decision in February 2021 that invalidated the state’s felony law against drug possession, lawmakers enacted a temporary criminalization policy that is set to expire on July 1. Some lawmakers want the state to formalize a policy of decriminalized possession, but others want to maintain criminalization.
Bipartisan Washington State senators also recently unveiled a revised bill to legalize psilocybin services for adults.