The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) had a major independent study of their enforcement division by consulting firm, Hillard-Heintze.
Their report, which was released at the end of 2019, showed a toxic culture exists within the agency. You can read it here on the WSLCB’s website.
Our independent research here at 420leaks goes beyond and shows an agency and state leaders that risk losing it’s entire licensing scheme, the billions in sales and taxes, subjecting it to further loss by individual or class action lawsuits due to this toxic culture.
Kind of ironic for an industry now recognized by these same politicians as “essential” during a pandemic.
Aaron Barfield, Peter Manning and several others from Black Excellence In Cannabis based out of Renton, WA have all experienced discrimination in the licensing process.
I 502 has been a nightmare for me,” stated Barfield.”
“I did not support I 502 but I knew it would be the death of medical so I tried to move forward under that system. I had no idea that I was in for such a financially devastating experience.’
Their group has been lobbying the WSLCB and the state legislators for years to get the black and minority communities to have equity in the industry.
I-502 was sold as a way for medical providers to turn their operations into regulated businesses. That regulation was supposed to grant access to economic opportunity.
Barfield told us, “Instead the WSLCB has regulated us out of an industry that we built. This system has almost completely excluded African Americans.”
He also stated, “During the application process they denied Peter and I due process by arbitrarily moving our qualifications around and then even enforced rules that didn’t exist to disqualify us.’
“The most disturbing and frustrating thing is that after denying our applications the WSLCB approved a white woman from Peter’s Medical Marijuana Collective Garden for a license, with the exact same paperwork.’
The state made an effort to bring collectives under the larger I-502 model in 2015 legislation in spite of bitter protests from the grassroots community thaat sprung up around medical cannabis..
They filed a lawsuit against the state and US attorney William Barr in US Federal Court in Washington D.C. over the discrimination within the WSLCB licensing last month.
They plan to use this effort to bring exposure to the corrupt and discriminatory nature of Washington’s cannabis regulatory scheme.
“We have been trying for years to find a solution in Washington. In our recent meeting with Governor Jay Inslee, he used our platform handout as a coaster for his soda can while we plead our case.”
“This showed us that our only hope for remedy would be to seek protection and relief from US federal court,” said Barfield.
Another case that highlighted WSLCB toxicity came to our attention last spring was JOHN JUNG VS WSLCB filed in Pierce County Superior court.
We first found out about WSLCB enforcement officer John Jung while listening to testimony he gave about the lack of training and the toxic culture within the WSLCB to the Commerce and Gaming Committee in the Washington State legislature last March. He wrote a press release for us describing what he is experiencing.
Jung filed a lawsuit against the agency for failing to give him and other enforcement officers the full peace officer training and certification while also allowing a toxic work environment, giving many officers guns and badges. In other words, they are not police officers, yet they are acting like it.
After describing Jung’s story to the House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Roger Goodman in a lunch meeting last winter, we were informed the WSLCB was asking for this authority in legislation he was then considering for the 2020 legislative session that ended in March this year.
It was not until a pile of search warrants obtained from the WSLCB by 420leaks, including raids on patients in their homes into Rep. Goodman’s hands that we all realized the gravity of the situation.
Not only does the agency have under-trained and under-certified officers being given guns and badges without being peace officers, but they have also been getting search warrants signed by judges and raiding people in their homes and businesses!
The agency has been conducting these criminal investigations on marijuana cases when they only appear to have regulatory authority on i502 licensees and registered patient cooperative gardens and others.
In one case from late last year, Levi Lyon and his girlfriend had their bus seized by the agency. They did it because his girlfriend offered to share a hit with undercover WSLCB officer. The hit was from her own personal amount that was purchased legally from an I502 shop.
His full story and request for help from the community is found here.
We’ll have more to say on this story coming soon. Check our Facebook page for a sneak peak.
The WSLCB is doing these criminal investigations and raids with the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies, while at the same time are asking the legislators to give them authority to do these things.
The first case we found the WSLCB doing this was in 2017, less than a year after the law from 2015 went into effect in 2016. It was a raid using a SWAT tank on a registered patient with just 10 plants. Here’s the full search warrant obtained by 420leaks.
The most recent bill requested by LCB asking for authority to investigate criminal matters on marijuana, tobacco and vapor products was House Bill 1626. The bill was introduced in the 2019 legislative session and carried over for consideration for the 2020 session. It never moved through the process.
This means as of this writing, it appears the WSLCB still has no statutory authority.
They also asked for the mutual cooperation authority to work with other law enforcement back in 2015 with House Bill 1537 and were denied for that as well by the legislators. They still do not have this authority, yet they are doing it anyway.
They have been asking for this criminal enforcement authority for over a decade, but keep getting denied every year.
Part of the problem with this toxic police style culture is that WSLCB contracts with a 3rd party called LEXIPOL for writing their enforcement policy.
LEXIPOL writes policy nationwide for mostly police agencies. The agency is failing to amend these policies to match their agency regulatory authority. Rick Garza and the board have failed to reign in the overreach.
This leads to confusion between the Chief of Enforcement and the enforcement division unsure of what their boundaries are when you have policies that contain full criminal law enforcement policy.
The ACLU went after Spokane PD over LEXIPOL policies a few years back, finding all kinds of issues created by not amending LEXIPOL policy to adapt for our state statutes.
We sent this information to the ACLU (and every other group we could think of). Are they not investigating because Alison Holcomb and the ACLU were the driving force behind behind the I502 initiative?
We received copies of these WSLCB policies and you can see the LEXIPOL copywrite on them…
As we reported last month, they have even given themselves the policy for use of cell phone spy technology, like Stingray devices in the search and seizure policies.
We have a records request out now to see if they are actually using these cellphone spying technologies.
Even the Hillard-Heintze independent report for the legislators on the toxic culture released at the end of 2019 referenced these problems with LEXIPOL writing policy for a regulatory agency.
420leaks has now confirmed these issues with the agency during a brief conversation with WSLCB Board Member Ollie Garrett.
Our founder John Novak spoke to her last Saturday when after a social equity in cannabis licensing event in Seattle, that improperly trained and uncertified WSLCB enforcement officers are being issued guns.
He told her they need to get these out of those officers hands. She replied, “It is going to happen.”
So on Feb. 25, 2020, Novak begged the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee to please fix the toxic culture and take the guns away from those uncertified officers at a public hearing on a bill for social equity in cannabis licensing the WSLCB had requested, House Bill 2870.
Right after, corporate cannabis lobbyist Vicki Christophersen told him in the hallway that she heard the guns would be gone in 60 days.
So not only is everyone aware of this down there in Olympia, they are going to allow it to go on for at least another 2 months!
However, in public records released since, that even appears to be in question.
The state is negligent to say the least. What happens if someone gets shot, or even just an accidental discharge?
This is a complete fiasco and lucky this has not happened to date that we are aware of.
In our independent review, we have concluded the state should strip the guns and the LEXIPOL strategies, abolish the board and current executive directors and terminate the employment of the heads of the enforcement division.
Our state should hang it’s head in shame at the failure in leadership.
This falls directly on the hands of two other offices in Olympia.
Jay (Inslee) and Silent Bob (Ferguson) are a joke when it comes to Washington State cannabis laws and our constitution and protecting the right of individuals.
One would have thought the legislators would reign in this corrupt agency after the courts found 17 violations of the Open Public Meetings Act back in 2014. They were caught by open government and public records researcher Arthur West by holding secret meetings with law enforcement, substance abuse and other insider stakeholders. He eventually settled the case with the agency for nearly $200,000 in 2015.
The failure of our many in our own community advocacy groups to speak out is just as alarming when you realize cannabis forfeitures are up and our state is #1 in the entire nation in that category by a large margin according to the DEA’s numbers!
That means more money to pay confidential informants and undercover cops who prey on people over Facebook and other social media, or by joining groups and going out and using cannabis with them.
It is time for new leadership and an end to this horrific war on the cannabis grassroots community by state and corporate creeps and their tax payer funded goon squads. 100+ years of targeting good people over a plant is a national disgrace and the true reefer madness.
“Governor Inslee and the state leaders here have failed to fulfill their responsibilities to implement a fair & equitable cannabis regulatory system to ensure equal access to economic opportunities and provide equal protection under the law for all members of our community,” said Barfield.
It’s true. Just ask the state legislators. They have openly told us this has been a corrupt agency since it began in 1933! We aren’t reporting something new. But it is newsworthy since it appears nobody seems to be willing to hold their feet to the fire.
This is worse than legalization. It is a stab in the back in the name of progress. It is taking away our constitutional rights and hoping you’ll smoke too much to care.
Let’s not forget this once our lives go back to normal in these trying times.
(John Novak and Aaron Barfield contributed to this article)