Several years ago, those raising concerns about the mental health impacts of high-potency cannabis were largely ignored in the Legislature.
Now, many lawmakers concede the state is grappling with a real problem. Still, action remains maddeningly elusive.
A House bill crafted by Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, would have raised the age minimum from 21 to 25 to purchase products with THC concentrates higher than 35%. Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, sponsored a similar measure for consideration in the Senate.
The Controlled Substances & Gaming Committee in the House passed an amended version of Davis’ HB 2320 — but stripped out the age minimum. Instead, the weakened legislation requires cannabis retailers to post a sign warning that high THC products may increase the risk of psychotic disorders.
In the Senate, the Labor & Commerce Committee passed Salomon’s version that included the age limit but directed the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to define high THC concentrates. That was progress, and provided hope to health advocates that this might be the year that something — anything — might happen on high-potency cannabis.
The bill died in the Senate Ways & Means Committee when the chair, Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, refused to allow it to move forward. When asked how Robinson made her decision, a spokesperson replied: “The committee knew the House companion (HB 2320) was moving.”
But moving in what direction? Lawmakers in both chambers still have time to do something substantive, but the window is closing.
Senate Bill 6271 takes a different tack. Supported by representatives of the cannabis industry, it would require the LCB to come up with recommendations for imposing a graduated tax on high-potency cannabis products while lowering other cannabis taxes. The plan is due in 2026.
It passed the Senate by 44-5. A hearing in the House Committee on Regulated Substances & Gaming is scheduled for Feb. 14.
It’s worth emphasizing: SB 6271 requires no actions, even though a University of Washington study in 2020 included a consensus statement that use of high-potency cannabis increases risk of addiction and increases the likelihood of developing psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
Last month, the National Conference of State Legislatures produced an overview of state laws on high-potency cannabis through 2023. This is what it found:
• 10 states limit the purchase or possession of THC products by amount or percentage — but not Washington.
• Eight states limit potency of THC by product or category — but not Washington.
• Six states passed policies related to high-potency products — but not Washington.
• Two states tax cannabis products by THC potency — but not Washington.
Lawmakers concerned that regulating cannabis would only shift production to the illicit market should read the studies the Legislature commissioned.
A Washington State Health Care Authority report on high THC policy noted that measures such as implementing higher taxes would be beneficial to Washingtonians: “While some illegal market will always exist, as is the case with tobacco and alcohol, the net benefit of such measures should be positive, especially for reducing cannabis initiation and decreasing frequency of use of high THC products among consumers who generally prefer a legal market.”
Taking more time and commissioning more studies underscores that legislators are more concerned about the cannabis industry than the mental health of young people. There couldn’t be a more damning judgment about who’s really in charge in Olympia.