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The Turbulent History of Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement in Washington State

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Members of Miller Nash’s cannabis team have been published in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. The Turbulent History of Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement in Washington State is the first scholarly article of its kind to chronicle the regulatory and legislative evolution of Washington’s cannabis industry, detailing the troubling history of the State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (LCB) abuses of power and policy blunders in the early years of regulating Washington’s cannabis industry.

Washington State has one of the nation’s most mature licensed cannabis industries. The article authors (Christine Masse, Daniel J. Oates, Christopher Lynch, Andrew G. Murphy, Danielle Hunt, Vanessa L. Wheeler & Vanessa Williams-Hall) document how, nearly a decade after the state’s voters declared that Washington would stop treating adult cannabis use as a crime, the LCB has failed to embrace the voters’ lofty ambitions. Legislators, licensees, and even LCB staff have derided the LCB’s preference for enforcement before education and its reliance on traditional policing systems developed during the War on Drugs to regulate the cannabis industry.

The LCB’s frequently hostile enforcement culture—including arguing to courts that cannabis licensees have no constitutional rights—has repeatedly converted de minimis regulatory violations into business-ending events. The agency has not yet shown that it has evolved to prioritize achieving regulatory compliance over punishing licensees.

The article presents a cautionary tale for other jurisdictions to heed when crafting or amending the regulatory scheme for their adult use cannabis industries.

To read the full law review article, click the following link: The Turbulent History of Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement in Washington State, 31 Cornell J.L. & Pub Pol’y 121 (Fall 2021).

This article is provided for informational purposes only—it does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader. Readers should consult legal counsel before taking action relating to the subject matter of this article.