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Corporations embracing 420 as legalization grows

LOS ANGELES — Potheads have for decades celebrated their love of marijuana on April 20, but the once counter-culture celebration that was all about getting stoned now is so mainstream Corporate America is starting to embrace it.

No, Hallmark doesn’t yet have a card to mark “420.” But many other businesses inside and outside the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry are using April 20, or 4/20, to roll out marketing and social media messaging aimed at connecting with consumers driving the booming market.

Today, Lyft is offering a $4.20 credit on a single ride in Colorado and in select cities in the U.S. and Canada. Carl’s Jr. is using a Denver restaurant to market a hamburger infused with CBD, a nonintoxicating molecule found in cannabis that many believe is beneficial to their health.

On 420 last year, Totino’s, a maker of frozen pizza snacks, tweeted an image of a microwave and an oven with the message: “To be blunt, pizza rolls are better when baked.”

“I think brands that associate themselves with cannabis kind of get that contact high. In other words, they’re just considered to be cooler by association,” said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. “As pot becomes more legal, more discussed, more interesting to people, more widely used, then 420 becomes more mainstream as well.”

Marijuana normalization has snowballed since 2012, when Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational use. Eight more followed, including California, Oregon and Michigan. Medical marijuana is legal in two-thirds of the states, with conservative-leaning Utah and Oklahoma among recent additions.

Meantime, the CBD market has exploded. CBD oil can be found in candies, coffee and other food, drinks and dietary supplements, along with perfume, lotions, creams and soap. Proponents say CBD helps with pain, anxiety and inflammation, though limited scientific research supports those claims.

U.S. retail sales of cannabis products jumped to $10.5 billion last year, a threefold increase from 2017, according to data from Arcview Group, a cannabis investment and market research firm. The figures do not include retail sales of hemp-derived CBD products.

Ben & Jerry’s was one of the earliest big brands to foster a connection with the marijuana culture through marketing. The Vermont-based ice cream company features Cherry Garcia and Phish Food, honoring late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia and the band Phish. Both bands are favorites of the marijuana-smoking crowd.

A focus on justice

To mark 420 in recent years, Ben & Jerry’s debuted taco- and burrito-inspired ice cream sandwiches. This year the company partnered with a San Francisco Bay Area cannabis retailer to give customers who place delivery orders on Friday and Saturday a free pint of Half Baked, a combination of cookie dough and fudge brownie.

“We have a lot of fun, never being overt, but really playing into the moment of 420,” said Jay Curley, the company’s global head of integrated marketing.

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s also turned more serious, asking consumers to call on lawmakers to expunge prior marijuana convictions and press for pardons or amnesty for anyone arrested for smoking pot. This year the company is using the holiday to call for criminal justice reform.

“We’re actually using this as an opportunity not to tell a stoner joke like we have in the past, but to raise what we see as a much more serious issue around justice,” Curley said.

Those in the marijuana marketplace also are ramping up advertising around 420. Much of the marketing about cannabis or related products takes the form of online ads, emails, text messages and social media. Shops typically offer discounts. Some host parties with food and entertainment. The larger 420 events can draw thousands of people.

Verano Holdings, whose businesses include cannabis shops, sponsors street festivals in Chicago and Tulsa, Okla., where attendees can learn about marijuana products, listen to music and grab a bite. The company expects today’s festival in Chicago, going on its third year, will draw more than 4,000 people. Last year, it drew 1,500, said Tim Tennant, Verano’s chief marketing officer.

In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Hippie Hill will again be the site of a 420 celebration. Last year, more than 15,000 attended the event, which has transformed from a small informal gathering into a full-blown festival of corporate sponsors and commercial booths selling smoking devices, T-shirts and food.

Roger Volodarsky, whose Los Angeles-based Puffco makes portable vaporizers, has celebrated 420 since he was a teenager.

Volodarksy likes that some Main Street brands are getting into the industry and the holiday.

“What’s important to me about these ad campaigns is they’re speaking to people who aren’t users and they’re normalizing the space to people who aren’t users,” he said.

High End Market Place in Vancouver goes green

High End Market Place, a medical and recreational cannabis dispensary in Vancouver’s Uptown neighborhood, has become the first marijuana establishment in the county to be certified under Clark County’s Green Business program.

The announcement comes in time for two of the most important green days of the year. The first is today, April 20, which has become the biggest annual sales day in the cannabis industry due to the use of the slang term 420 in cannabis culture to refer to the consumption of marijuana.

But High End co-owner Morgan Hutchinson says what she’s really excited about is 422 — as in Earth Day — which will arrive a couple days later and give the business a chance to celebrate its new certification.

The certification program is run by a partnership including the county, Clark Public Utilities and the city of Vancouver. It recognizes sustainable business practices and provides assistance to businesses to develop sustainability goals. High End is one of five businesses that have been certified in 2019, county officials say.

Hutchinson says the Earth Day timing is important to highlight sustainability efforts among cannabis businesses.

Despite the plant-based core product, the emerging retail marijuana industry has faced criticism for not actually being all that green — a 2018 Washington Post story noted that the legalization of recreational cannabis has led to an increase in litter due to the use of non-recyclable plastic tubes and Mylar bags as packaging, as well as problems with fertilizer runoff and an excess of plant waste being sent to landfills.

High End’s co-owners have been working to source their products from ethical and environmentally friendly producers, Hutchinson says. But the certification helped them set targets such as a 30 percent reduction in the store’s paper use this year and a switch to post-consumer recycled paper.

Hutchinson says they’ve also been pushing their producer and processor partners to explore non-plastic packaging such as glass and cardboard. But that’s especially challenging, she says, because while glass packaging is great for maintaining freshness, it’s much more expensive than plastic.

“That’s one of our goals, to continue to work with producers and processors on packaging,” she says. “[Plastic] is really, really pervasive.”

Hutchinson says she and her partner Gareth Kautz have become more involved in the community since they opened High End in 2015. And when they learned about the Green Business certification six months ago, they viewed it as another opportunity.

“We thought, ‘We’re already practicing a lot of these things — why not go that extra step?’ ” Hutchinson says.

Hutchinson says they want to set an example for other cannabis businesses, and to improve the public reputation of the cannabis industry. A combination of advertising restrictions at events with minors and a general aversion to the cannabis industry has blocked High End from some of the sponsorship opportunities that are typically available to local businesses, Hutchinson says, such as CouveFest NW. So she says it’s exciting when the owners find new programs that allow them to participate.

“We get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Hutchinson, whose business is a member of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and the Uptown Village Association. “There’s still so much negative stigma with this plant.”

The business has also partnered with Prevent Coalition, a Clark County organization that works to prevent youth substance use. Today is anticipated to be High End’s busiest day of the year. Hutchinson says the store plans to begin handing out new point-of-sale cards today with more information from Prevent.

Nevada may be forced to reveal marijuana-license criteria

LAS VEGAS — Nevada faces complaints about secrecy in awarding licenses to sell marijuana in the state’s booming legal marketplace, boiling over into lawsuits and legislation that appear poised to pry open the process.

Several companies have sued the state tax department, arguing that no one knows for sure the criteria officials use to award new licenses. They complain the state releases no information about who seeks and receives permission to sell cannabis to adults, many of them tourists, in the nearly 2-year-old market.

They will ask a judge Monday to freeze the granting of marijuana dispensary licenses, at least temporarily, until the courts decide whether it’s “arbitrary and capricious and violates the constitution,” one lawsuit says.

The hearing will focus on a second wave of dispensaries approved in December to open into an evolving regulatory environment where local lawmakers are considering allowing pot lounges on or near the Las Vegas Strip.

The companies say Nevada unconstitutionally picked winners and losers from 462 applicants for 61 new dispensary, cultivation, laboratory and production licenses.

“Licenses that admit a select few to such a lucrative enterprise must be made in a way that is open and transparent,” said attorney Vincent Savarese, who wrote the constitutional challenge on behalf of Serenity Wellness Center and 10 other companies that were turned away.

“The point is to remove the marijuana trade from criminal enterprises, cartels and mobsters and street dealers, and to ensure that they don’t have participation in the legal marijuana industry,” he said.

The court arguments come days after the state Senate unanimously passed a measure to let officials release taxpayer information now labeled confidential. The proposal heads next to the Assembly.

Plans are underway to release the names of all applicants and licensees once the measure becomes law, said Ky Plaskon, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation, which regulates the licensing process.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday acknowledged “the frustrations of many marijuana license applicants with the current licensing process” and endorsed the legislation that he said “would shed light on the methodology used … in granting licenses.”

Sisolak, a Democrat, was elected last November while calling for a state marijuana regulatory program similar to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which regulates casino licensing. He has an advisory panel studying the formation of a Cannabis Compliance Board.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, and figures show that sales are booming.

In the first year after broad marijuana sales began in July 2017, 61 dispensaries statewide reported nearly $425 million in recreational pot sales. Medical marijuana sales totaled an additional $105 million.

Nevada reaped $42.5 million in taxes on adult sales, with about $27.5 million going to an account for schools.

In the last six months of 2018, all dispensaries reported $884 million in sales and the state took in almost $72 million in taxes on recreational sales, Plaskon said. There are now 65 marijuana stores statewide.

Monday’s court hearing in Clark County District Court is expected to draw attorneys involved in six lawsuits filed against the state Taxation Department on behalf of dozens of companies.

“I’m not saying anybody corruptly got a license,” Savarese said. “But I’m saying that if they had, the process is opaque enough to provide cover for it.”

His 11 clients already won some dispensary licenses in 2017, after Nevada voters in 2016 approved broad access to cannabis, and are seeking more.

Medical marijuana in schools, cannabis testing bills advance

OLYMPIA — A proposal to allow parents to administer limited forms of marijuana to their children on school property has passed the state Senate, along with a proposal for new marijuana testing rules.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers described the school bill as aimed at students that need medical marijuana for relief from chronic illnesses. The bill would allow marijuana-infused products, but specifically bans smoking pot and products high in the psychoactive chemical THC.

Both bills passed with strong bipartisan support in a Saturday voting session at the state Capitol.

Both had earlier passed House votes, meaning they now return to the House for final approval of amendments.

Local governments sue over California marijuana delivery

LOS ANGELES — California has entered a potentially landmark legal fight against some of its own cities over one of the most basic questions in the nation’s largest legal marijuana market: Where can you buy it?

Beverly Hills and 24 other local governments sued California regulators Friday to overturn a rule allowing home deliveries statewide, even into communities that banned commercial pot sales. Ultimately at issue is who is in charge: the state bureaucracy that oversees the market or local governments where pot is grown and sold.

When California adopted the delivery rule in January, the League of California Cities and police chiefs complained that unrestricted home deliveries would create an unchecked market of largely hidden pot transactions, while undercutting local control guaranteed in a 2016 law broadly legalizing marijuana sales.

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ryan Coonerty said in a statement that the state rule damages local marijuana businesses and “betrays the promise made to the voters” in 2016.

The significance of the lawsuit goes beyond home deliveries. It represents an important early court test of Proposition 64, the law that legalized pot sales for adults in California. There have been numerous disputes over precisely what parts of the law mean, including those governing the size of cannabis farms.

The state Bureau of Cannabis Control, which wrote the rule, had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, which was filed late Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.

The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the rule and prohibit state regulators from enforcing it.

The rule “permits commercial cannabis deliveries to any physical address in the state,” which conflicts with the authority of local governments to prohibit marijuana deliveries within their boundaries, the lawsuit said.

Marijuana companies and consumers had pushed for home deliveries because vast stretches of the state have banned commercial pot activity or not set up rules to allow legal sales, creating what’s been called pot “deserts.” Residents in those areas were effectively cut off from legal marijuana purchases.

Supporters said the problem was worse for the sick and frail, who would not be able to drive long distances to buy pot.

Because pot remains illegal on the federal level, it cannot be sent through the U.S. Postal Service. But people can get it delivered to their door in California. Under state rules, all cannabis deliveries must be performed by employees of a licensed retailer. Regulators say there are 311 active licenses to deliver pot.

The delivery rule sought to clarify what had been apparently conflicting regulations about where marijuana can be delivered in California.

The 2016 law said local governments had the authority to ban nonmedical pot businesses. But state regulators pointed to the business and professions code, which said local governments “shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads” by a licensed operator.

The cannabis bureau had said it was merely clarifying what had always been the case: A licensed pot delivery can be made to “any jurisdiction within the state.”

In addition to Beverly Hills and Santa Cruz County, plaintiffs include the cities of Agoura Hills, Angels Camp, Arcadia, Atwater, Ceres, Clovis, Covina, Dixon and Downey. Also participating are McFarland, Newman, Oakdale, Palmdale, Patterson, Riverbank, Riverside, San Pablo, Sonora, Tehachapi, Temecula, Tracy, Turlock and Vacaville.

Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed.

Oregon lawmakers move to prepare for interstate pot commerce

SALEM, Ore. — It may seem like a pipe dream now, but Oregon lawmakers are anticipating the federal government legalizing, or at least tolerating, the interstate transfer of marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward a bill this week empowering the governor to enter into agreements with other states for such transactions. The bill, which was completely rewritten in an amendment, goes to the Senate floor for a vote.

Unlike the original bill , the new version specifies that it would not be operative until federal law is amended to allow for the interstate transfer of marijuana, or the U.S. Department of Justice issues an opinion or memorandum allowing or tolerating it.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, one of two Republican committee members who voted against the bill, said he prefers to wait for the federal government to take action.

But Sen. Shemia Fagan of Portland, who was among four Democrats and one Republican who voted in favor Wednesday, said it would give Oregon marijuana businesses an advantage if and when the federal government opens the path.

“Oregon’s industry is basically first in line for when the feds do act,” Fagan said. “If we wait until the feds act, then all the other states will be working with their legislatures to then pass, and Oregon will kind of be at the tip of the spear and take advantage of what could be a lucrative opportunity for Oregon industry.”

Adam J. Smith, executive director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance that represents cannabis and allied businesses in Oregon, said he expects other states to follow Oregon’s lead and authorize interstate commerce if the federal government creates an opening.

“States would set the parameters and have to regulate it,” said Smith, whose association has been pushing for the bill.

There are several bills in Congress that would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list. Their future remains uncertain, but even a decision by the federal Justice Department to de-prioritize prosecuting interstate marijuana commerce would be enough for Oregon’s governor to start seeking cooperation with other states, according to the bill and its co-sponsor, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.

“The governor would not be able to move forward unless there was something like a new Cole memo, or something happening in Congress to permit this type of transaction, or something else coming out of the U.S. Attorneys as to tolerance,” Prozanski told the judiciary committee, which he chairs.

The Cole memorandum restricts federal marijuana law enforcement in states where pot is legal. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize personal possession, in 1973. It legalized medical marijuana in 1998, and recreational use in 2014. Ten states have legalized recreational marijuana.

Any agreement with other states must ensure enforceable public health and safety standards, and include a system to regulate and track the interstate delivery of marijuana items, the bill says.

Smith said his association is pushing “to open new markets for Oregon’s world-class cannabis by 2021.” Oregon has an ideal growing climate, a marijuana surplus and is poised to become a prime exporter, he said.

U.S. regulators plan hearing on growing use of CBD in products

NEW YORK — U.S. regulators are planning a public hearing to collect more information on CBD in cosmetics, foods and other products as the cannabis compound spreads in popularity.

CBD comes from marijuana or hemp plants but does not cause a high. People have been drawn to the extract because of its supposed calming effects.

The Food and Drug Administration says the May 31 meeting will discuss the science, safety and sale of cannabis compounds like CBD. In December, the agency said CBD is not approved for use in food, drinks and dietary supplements, but noted that could change. It also said any products that make drug or treatment claims also need to be approved by the FDA.

The FDA has approved a pharmaceutical version of CBD to treat rare seizure disorders.

Clark County Council delves into marijuana

Marijuana is a gateway drug that’s associated with violent crime. But kids in Washington aren’t using the drug at higher rates since it was legalized and it has no conclusive link to mental illness.

Those were two of the claims made respectively by local law enforcement and the county’s public health officer at a Clark County Council work session Wednesday morning. Although Washington voters legalized cannabis in 2012, Clark County passed a ban on recreational cannabis businesses in the unincorporated areas two years later.

The county council previously reconsidered the ban, but backed off last year. After the council’s composition changed following November’s elections, the council is again moving toward lifting the ban.

Councilors Temple Lentz, Julie Olson and John Blom have expressed varying degrees of openness to lifting the ban while council Chair Eileen Quiring has opposed it. Councilor Gary Medvigy, who was appointed to the council in January, said after the meeting that he’s undecided.

As the council has weighed the question, it’s considered how lifting the ban would affect youth, law enforcement and social services. All these topics were considered during the work session. At the end, no councilor seemed to have changed positions as the county moves forward, which will likely involve another work session on planning and zoning, followed by a public hearing.

At the end of the session, Quiring said she wanted to get perspective from the juvenile justice system. Medvigy welcomed the idea. But Olson questioned what that would add, since it’s illegal for minors to buy or use marijuana.

“Well, yeah, it isn’t legal for teens to use marijuana but because it’s legal for adults it affects teens and I really think that’s the largest danger that we enter into with legalizing this,” responded Quiring.

Here are a few takeaways from the work session.

‘The ranch dressing of drugs’

Sgt. Alex Schoening, who was part of a panel of officials from the sheriff’s office, said that since 2003, Clark County has either been at the state average or higher for impairment-involved fatalities. He said that the state average is 50 percent of fatalities involve impairment, and Clark County is trending at about 60 percent.

He said the sheriff’s office has seen a rise in “poly-drug collisions,” meaning that they involved a driver impaired by multiple substances. He said that 2017 was the first year that about half of the impairment-involved fatalities involved “drug use of some kind.” He did not specify if those involved marijuana.

“Marijuana is affectionately known in law enforcement circles as the ranch dressing of drugs because it’s good with everything,” he said. “And that’s how we are seeing it on the road. We are not typically seeing it by itself.”

He said that marijuana tends to enhance the impairing effects of other drugs. He said that impairment caused marijuana is determined using blood tests but a seven- to nine-month backlog at the state toxicology lab is delaying prosecutions.

Olson said that because the state toxicology lab didn’t previously test for marijuana it is difficult to say statistically there is a rise in poly-drug impairment.

“I tend to agree with you. I think the data is too new,” responded Schoening.

Later in the session, Washington State Patrol Trooper Ben Taylor told the council that the data is still new and that marijuana legalization hasn’t created a huge increase in traffic fatalities.

Apples to buds to police calls

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Duncan Hoss presented numbers showing that recreational cannabis businesses in local cities generated more calls for police service than nearby businesses. For instance, Main Street Marijuana in Vancouver generated 128 calls for service since 2016. That compares with nearby businesses such as Vancouver Pizza, 34 calls, Trap Door Brewing, 18 calls, and Hopeless Tattoo, two calls.

Quiring said it was interesting that the recreational marijuana store generated more calls for service than the brewery and tattoo parlor.

Olson asked why the sheriff’s office included some businesses but not others, specifically large nearby retailers, such as WinCo Foods and Fred Meyer. Lentz said that it was important to compare “apples to apples,” specifically businesses where consumers purchase items to consume at home.

“When you look at any set of data out of context it’s easy to draw conclusions that may not necessarily reflect the entire community,” she said.

Hoss responded that large retailers do more business.

Violent crime

Sheriff’s Cmdr. John Horch, a member of the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force, said that Sheriff Chuck Atkins opposes lifting the ban on recreational marijuana businesses. He also said that marijuana is linked to violent crime and is a gateway to abusing substances like heroin.

“The last three homicides we’ve had in Clark County, two of them involved marijuana,” said Horch. He said that in one case a suspect told investigators he had been using dabs, a highly concentrated form of the drug. He also said there was another incident in Hazel Dell where someone was shot and killed in a marijuana deal.

Horch said that marijuana is involved with almost every search warrant served by the task force. He also said that he and investigators hear from suspects that marijuana use led them to heroin.

Social services

Clark County Director of Community Services Vanessa Gaston told the council she reached out to several of the county’s largest mental health and substance abuse treatment providers. According to Gaston, they said while they have seen people come in for treatment for marijuana use, it’s not increased.

Gaston also reached out to the Council for the Homeless. According to Gaston, the organization has found that homeless people do use marijuana. She said their marijuana use could prevent them from finding stable housing if a landlord objects to it, or getting a job if a potential employer requires a drug test. But she said the Council for the Homeless sees more homeless people who abuse methamphetamine, alcohol or opioids.

The youth

Dr. Alan Melnick, public health director and Clark County health officer, presented the council data from the Healthy Youth Survey, a biennial survey conducted by the state Department of Health that gauges adolescents’ relationship to drugs and alcohol.

He pointed to positive trends in the survey such as how adolescents haven’t reported increases in marijuana use since the drug was legalized. However, the percentage of 10th-graders who’ve reported vaping has risen. Also, 10th-graders see less risk from using marijuana than in previous surveys.

Melnick was asked by Quiring about links between marijuana use to suicide and mental illness. He responded that there has been a lack of research and good studies on the topic.

He said there was some “substantial evidence” of a statistical association between cannabis use and schizophrenia. However, he said while it may be a risk factor there is not enough evidence to prove causation.

He also said there is moderate evidence that cannabis use increases the risk of suicidal ideation and attempts, as well as other mental health problems. He said there is some moderate evidence that cannabis use helps the cognitive functioning of people with psychotic disorders.

Pioneering legal pot states aim to ease rules on industry

SEATTLE — When Washington and Colorado launched their pioneering marijuana industries in the face of U.S. government prohibition, they imposed strict rules in hopes of keeping the U.S. Justice Department at bay.

Businesses would need to track plants and products with bar codes. Regulators would have to approve money invested to ensure it was not tied to criminals. Owners of pot operations would have to live in-state and pass background checks.

Five years later, federal authorities have stayed away, but the industry says it has been stifled by over-regulation. Lawmakers in both states have heard the complaints and are moving to ease the rules.

“There’s a saying in the business world: ‘Pioneers get slaughtered, and settlers get fat,’” said Greg James, publisher of industry magazine Marijuana Venture , based near Seattle. “These rules have made the entire industry very inefficient. We’re going to get left in the dust unless we change some things pretty quickly.”

Since Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, eight others have joined them. California, Nevada, Oregon and Michigan are among the legal states that have taken a more permissive approach to out-of-state ownership and investment.

In Colorado, which already loosened its rules to allow licensed businesses to have up to 15 out-of-state owners, lawmakers from both parties want to further open the industry to include ownership by publicly traded companies and to limit background-check requirements. A similar measure was vetoed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper last year, but his replacement, Gov. Jared Polis, has indicated support.

Washington lawmakers are considering a dual approach: easing financial restrictions while taking a more lenient view of rules violations, making it less likely businesses will lose their licenses for things like sloppy record-keeping. Three dozen have had their licenses canceled since 2015, while 32 more face revocation notices, according to the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.

One measure pending in the Democratic-led Legislature would open the industry to out-of-state ownership and allow businesses to become bigger, with a caveat: Any licensees hoping to take advantage would have to agree to let their workforce unionize.

Those that do could have up to 40% of their ownership held outside of Washington. They would also be able to obtain two additional marijuana licenses, allowing them to have up to seven retail shops or up to five growing and processing licenses, said the main sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña.

Investors could hold up to 10% of the business without undergoing background checks, though their names would still need to be disclosed.

“Banks don’t give lines of credit in our space, so we’re limited to private investors in the state of Washington,” said Ryan Kunkel, chief executive of Have A Heart, a chain of marijuana stores that has agreed to let its workers unionize. “It’s a tiny pool of investors, and it’s stifling our ability to expand. Meanwhile, there’s a massive industry expansion taking place in every other state.”

Another proposal , a wide-ranging overhaul of Washington’s regulatory enforcement, is a compromise between industry groups, including the Washington CannaBusiness Association , and the Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The association has lobbied hard for the changes, arguing that the board’s enforcement has been aggressive and uneven. Its director, Vicki Christophersen, went as far as helping organize an unsuccessful effort by lawmakers to have Russ Hauge, a former prosecutor, removed as one of the board’s three members because he was seen as unfriendly to the industry.

“The industry overall has made long strides in being a safe and fully regulated marketplace,” Christophersen said. “The legislation stems out of several years of frustration, of folks feeling like they want to be regulated, they want to be taxed, they want to do the right thing, but they feel they’re still being treated as criminal enterprises.”

The legislation would create a program where businesses could seek the board’s advice on compliance issues without risking penalties, and it would require inspectors to give licensees time to fix a problem before issuing a citation, unless the violations concern public safety, sale to a minor or repeat offenses.

Businesses could face cancellation if they accumulate multiple violations for certain offenses, such as failing to properly tag plants, over two years, rather than the current window of three years — giving them a clean slate sooner.

And the measure would make another crucial change: “True party of interest” rules, which require transparency in who owns, controls and profits from licensed marijuana businesses, would no longer come with automatic license cancellation. The rules have been a backbone of Washington’s marijuana regulations and a key way for officials to ensure criminal organizations don’t have a hand in the legal market, but even the board has acknowledged they’re overly strict.

In some cases, marijuana business owners struggling to make payroll infused personal money or investment from others into their business without having it vetted by the board, said Rick Garza, the board’s director. That can lead to automatic cancellation, even if the money came from a clean source, Garza said.

When the board asked the businesses why they did it without notifying regulators, they said they didn’t have time to wait months for the board to approve the money, he said.

“We want to make sure the enforcement structure is fair,” Garza said. “We started off really conservative, and you can see that over time that’s made it difficult for some.”

Survey: 1 in 4 in Washington get high at work

It’s probably not a good idea — and it can’t be great for productivity — but that’s not stopping a lot of Washingtonians from doing it.

I’m talking about getting high at work.

One in four marijuana users who are employed admit to doing this within the past year, according to a new survey of cannabis consumers in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, three states where recreational weed is legal.

One in four also said they’ve gotten high before work.

The marketing communications firm Quinn Thomas, which has offices in Seattle and Portland, funded the survey, which was conducted by polling-and-opinion outfit DHM Research. A representative sample of 900 cannabis consumers were interviewed — 300 in each of the three states — from Jan. 8 to 14. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

“There is a lot of information out there about the cannabis industry and its regulatory structure, but not much is known about consumers,” said Zach Knowling, vice president at Quinn Thomas, in an email. “We felt our experience researching and reaching unique audiences could build greater understanding of who they are.”

Washington and Colorado both legalized recreational use of marijuana through voter initiatives in 2012, becoming the first states to do so. Oregon followed in 2014.

The survey shows that after legalization, many cannabis consumers increased their usage. In Washington 44 percent of respondents said they are now regular consumers of pot (daily or a few times per week), compared with 36 percent who said they consumed that much prelegalization.

With legalization, it seems that marijuana has entered into the mainstream. Indeed, the survey data show that recreational-cannabis consumers look pretty much like the average American. They are a close match to the U.S. average for household income and educational attainment. In the three states that were surveyed, pot users match the general population breakdowns in terms of race and ethnicity, age, political-party affiliation and other demographic factors.

There is one significant exception: Gender. Cannabis consumers skew male by about 60 percent, according to the survey.

Even though marijuana is legal and widely popular in the three states surveyed, the great majority of users (79 percent) still feel there is some lingering social stigma attached to it. Only about half say they are completely transparent with family and friends about their use of the drug.

Even if folks feel some social stigma still exists, a lot of marijuana users aren’t exactly secretive about it — at least that’s true in Seattle, where the passing smell of pot smoke has become one of the defining characteristics of city sidewalks. While the great majority of those surveyed said that home is the primary place they consume cannabis, more than one in six said they typically get stoned away from home.

Survey respondents expressed a need for accurate information regarding safety and health of cannabis use, and just about half (49 percent) said they trusted their local retailer for that. In comparison, only 38 percent said they trust their health care provider.

“Staff at dispensaries are the most trusted source of information about cannabis, well above doctors and public health officials. That surprised us,” Knowling said. “There’s an opportunity for state officials and health care experts to increase their role, particularly because consumers told us they want more information.”

Smoking is the most popular method of cannabis consumption — a little more than half said that’s how they usually use it. Only 18 percent typically consume edibles, which ranks second, followed by vaping and topicals (oils or creams), in that order.

A large percentage of consumers surveyed reported a modest household income, so it’s not surprising that 62 percent pointed to price as one of the two most important factors when purchasing marijuana (THC potency came in second, at 45 percent).

One remarkable finding of the survey is that lower-income folks spend the most on marijuana. One-quarter of consumers with a household income of less than $25,000 spent more than $500 in a year. As you go higher up the income ladder, the likelihood of spending that much money on pot gets progressively lower. In light of that finding, Washington’s 37 percent sales-tax rate on marijuana seems particularly burdensome to people with lower incomes.

While the survey shows that getting stoned at work is a fairly commonplace activity, so is drug testing. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they’ve been subjected to a drug test that checked for cannabis within the past year. And just about the same number said they stopped getting high for a while in order to pass the test.