Every year our Legislature grapples with improvements for the cannabis industry. This year lawmakers are debating policy that would allow cannabis businesses to access capital investment from out-of-state. Alaska and Washington are alone in banning this practice, a freedom already available everywhere else adult-use cannabis is legal. As the tide of legalization is rising, and medical use increases, Washington must unleash its pioneers to do what they do best — innovate, drive the market, define new possibilities and succeed.
Our cannabis marketplace is artificially constrained — putting small businesses at a disadvantage when competing against better-financed businesses who already have deep-pockets in-state. A successful small business without a well-heeled family member or wealthy in-state investor often cannot expand to distribute statewide, for example. Imagine if any of the software giants from our state had been restricted from investors outside of Washington. Initially it might be OK — every place has a community with some affluence. But as the market grows, there are few left to invest within the geographical borders of a single place. And in cannabis, the limitations are apparent quickly, especially while financial options are also restricted due to federal banking regulations.
I founded a modest cannabis processor in Seattle because I believe that consumers deserve safe and healthy cannabis products. We are proud to specialize in a level of craftsmanship that is often not the focus for our larger competitors, such as artisanal handcrafted syrups that are used for making carbonated sodas, cocktails, marinades, toppings for ice cream or other mixology crafts. We use real fruit in many of our recipes. It’s my second business, and I am familiar with challenges that small-business owners face — whether it’s making payroll or covering the lease. That’s why I strongly believe we need to remove the artificial constraint on cannabis businesses. This barrier around Washington imposes a disservice to those who deserve the best possible products, while threatening the long-term viability of local businesses offering a specialized product in a very competitive marketplace.
The future of Washington’s cannabis industry includes discoveries unfolding daily. People make the case that out-of-state investment is allowed for small, craft businesses in wine or beer, why not cannabis? They’re right. But the threat of what we could lose is far greater. Cannabis products are sometimes recreational, yes, but the benefits of CBD are increasingly important to people struggling with pain and nausea, among other things. Can you imagine a scenario where breakthroughs in biotech stopped as a company packs up and moves to where it’s allowed to invest in talent and research and development that is forbidden in its home base? Without a legislative update, that is the road ahead here. Cannabis also has high marks from the Liquor Cannabis Board for retail compliance, generates more than $1 billion annually in taxes and employs more than 10,000 people.
Washington’s leaders have applauded responsible growth and significant financial contributions from the industry. To fulfill the promise of what can be achieved, they should remove constraints that will impact consumers and patients. We should be proud of the resilience of our system that protects public safety and children — but we need to take action so licensed professionals can prove why Washington is first, and best, in so many ways, including cannabis.