Wash. Pot Sellers Wary Of State's 'Joints For Jabs' Rules

By Sam Reisman
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Law360 (June 8, 2021, 9:06 PM EDT) -- Washington state's cannabis regulator has announced that it will let licensed marijuana sellers hand out pre-rolled joints to adults who receive COVID-19 vaccinations, but an industry group for pot retailers said the state's rules may be too restrictive to make the plan workable.

Specifically, cannabis retailers say it's unclear why the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is putting stricter regulations on the joint giveaway than it did for a similar program allowing breweries, wineries and bars to give vaccinated customers a free drink.

"We appreciate the consideration by the regulator to be included, but it is unclear why arbitrary restrictions were placed on the legal cannabis industry to participate in the state's incentive-based vaccination efforts that were not placed on our regulated peers," Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for the Washington CannaBusiness Association trade group, told Law360 on Tuesday.

Specifically, the regulator is requiring that any cannabis retailer participating in the handout "must be associated with an active vaccine clinic" and that the joint must be given to the person receiving their shot at the actual vaccination location.

By contrast, the LCB allowed alcohol businesses to hand out complimentary drinks at their usual locations once the customer provided proof of vaccination. The cannabis industry is governed by different, often stricter regulations than the alcohol industry, and remains federally illegal.

Pickus said that as of Tuesday, there were a few members of the group exploring a partnership with health care providers to set up a vaccine clinic at their stores, but none were definitely moving forward. 

"We are already hearing from members that health providers are hesitant to host clinics on-site since vaccination clinics are often supported by federal funds," Pickus said. He added that some members of the group were expected to testify before the LCB at the board's regular meeting Wednesday to address these issues.

The LCB is also requiring that cannabis retailers maintain records of all pre-rolled joints doled out under the "Joints for Jabs" program. As there is no retail sale conducted, the joint giveaways are not subject to sales or excise taxes, the regulator said. Licensees are allowed to participate in the program on an optional basis until July 12.

To encourage people to get their shots, several states have put in place incentives — ranging from cash lotteries to free food — to entice the unvaccinated. This is not the first "Joints for Jabs" effort to go forward with the consent of state regulators. On April 20, the unofficial cannabis holiday, activists in New York set up a giveaway of joints to those with vaccination cards. Simple possession of marijuana was legalized in that state in March.

A spokesperson for the LCB did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

--Editing by Aaron Pelc.

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