Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
For the record, I'm Rick Garza, the director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. I provided you—and I think you have a hard copy—of a presentation that I'll go through. I know I only have 10 minutes. How do you tell a story in 10 minutes for which there will be five years, essentially, of legislation in November of this year? I'll try to do it as quickly as I can.
Concerning the first objective of the agency, it's really interesting that the author of I-502 actually wrote the initiative to mimic our alcohol beverage law coming out of Prohibition in 1934.
If you go to the second slide, you'll see what our objective was. It was to create a tightly controlled and regulated cannabis market similar to what we have for alcohol. It created a three-tier system for cannabis unlike those of other states.
I want to share that whether done by referendum, initiative, or constitutional amendment, the laws that have been created in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have some differences.
One of them here, going back to mimic the old alcohol beverage law, was to not allow for a three-tier integration. In other words, a producer or processor of cannabis in Washington state cannot have interest, direct or indirect, financially with a retailer, and obviously vice versa. That goes back all the way back to the original alcohol beverage law, when there was concern that all the saloons before Prohibition were controlled by the largest brewers and distillers in the nation and within the state.
They actually looked at the system that was created in 1934 to draw up this cannabis law. We created licences for producer, processor, and retailer. The board also enforces laws and rules pertaining to those licensees, and as with alcohol, we collect and distribute the taxes and fees.
One of the first things we had to do was wait nine months to determine whether the federal government was going to allow us, Colorado and Washington, to move forward with this experiment. In August of 2013, what has been known as the Cole Memorandum was shared with the two states. It basically provided eight enforcement guidelines that must be met as we move forward.
I think Michael Hartman, the director from Colorado, spoke to the themes that are really most important within those guidelines. How would we prevent distribution and use by minors? How would we keep the criminal element out of our licensee base and our legal base, and how would we deal with the issue of diversion either out of the state or inverting illegal product into the legal system? I'll talk very briefly about how we did that.
Basically, in November 2012 it was legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess, as with alcohol, an ounce of usable marijuana, 16 ounces in solid form, and 72 ounces in liquid form. As I said earlier, it created a three-tier system for producer, processor, and retailer.
It also imposed a 37% retail excise tax on cannabis. When you look at the history of Washington state, you find that, whether in the case of cigarettes or of alcohol, we have some of the highest spirit taxes in the nation and also the highest cigarette taxes and have imposed a pretty high excise tax on cannabis.
One thing that I forgot to mention was that the alcohol system coming out of Prohibition for Washington state is actually modelled upon the Canadian model. We used the British Columbia model for our alcohol regulations.
It's interesting that you'll see—and I'll share with you—elements that you'll see in the new cannabis law. It also established a THC bloodstream threshold for marijuana DUIs at five nanograms; it limited the number of store locations advertising, the number of outlets—again very similar to the original alcohol laws and regulations—and then it earmarked revenue for health care, research, and education.
The first piece, with respect to the Cole Memorandum, concerns how we would keep the criminal element out of the licensing of this industry. As in Colorado, we do a criminal history investigation for all applicants. That means a fingerprint that runs through the Washington State Patrol here and then is deposited with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look at the applicants' criminal history not only in this state but throughout the country.
We also do that for any financier or investor. It goes even further than the criminal history check that we do for alcohol. So if you have any interest whatsoever, as a financier or an investor, you must also go through a criminal background check, including fingerprinting. Obviously, if you're an applicant, there's a financial background investigation that occurs, just like it would for a potential alcohol licensee. We want to know the source of the funds being used to establish the business. We want to know about the financial wherewithal of the applicant, and then there's a six-months residency requirement. Initially it was a three-months residency requirement, but it was moved up to six months.
There's also a restriction placed on the initiative that these entities, whether producers, processors, or retailers of cannabis, cannot be within a thousand feet of schools, child care centres, transit centres, game arcades, libraries, playgrounds, public parks—all obviously places where children would be present.
Then in order to deal with the issue of diversion, we have a robust and comprehensive software system that traces product from the start to sale. We call it a seed to sale system that captures any movement of product from the producer to the processor to the retailer.
How do we limit access? Just as we do for alcohol in Washington state, we do youth compliance checks. In fact, we do three of them a year per retailer. We have a compliance rate of 93% no sales to minors today. In fact, for the last two months I believe the compliance rate was 98%. That's even higher than the compliance rate for alcohol in Washington state.
We limited the number of production and retail stores. The idea of diversion and the concern of the federal government meant that we had to establish what the demand was for those more than 21 years old in Washington state, and we limited our production to that and the number of retail stores to about 500 state-wide, again using the old liquor model where until 2011 the State of Washington actually distributed and retailed spirits, as you may recall. We used that same model to set up the number of stores within the state. I talked a little bit about the possession limits earlier and, obviously, like with alcohol, there's an age restriction.
Again, another difference between us and the other states is that we don't allow for home grows for recreational or personal use, and there has been legislation since the initial initiative passed to allow for home grows. In fact, we were directed and are in the midst of looking at and bringing recommendations to a legislative committee with respect to whether home grows should be allowed. They are allowed for medical use. They're not allowed for personal use.
To let you know what the sales activity looks like, sales were $250 million in our first fiscal year, almost $900 million the second year, and $1.3 billion this last July. We're averaging about $4 million in daily sales. You can see the excise tax collections, and you can look at the revenue projections that were initially made and the projections that have come through. It's interesting. There was a fiscal note that had to be written on the initiative to determine the amount of excise tax or revenue that would be collected by the state. The estimate was zero to $2 billion over five years, because, of course, no one knew how fast the industry would grow. If you take a look at those numbers, it looks like probably about $1.3 billion in revenue will be collected in the first five years.
What's interesting about the initiative too is that the revenues are earmarked for social services, including health care. In fact, half of the money funds the state and federal medicaid program and then, of course, there's the general fund that is the state allocation. That gets a pretty high percentage, but you can see that there was an effort to make sure that the prevention and reduction of substance abuse was funded. The department of health has public health programs to speak to parents and youth about cannabis, and then our universities also receive funding.
Some examples of some of the funding are provided to you in the document. Substance abuse prevention and treatment is provided for all drugs, and then the department of health is given a sizeable income to be able to create a media best education campaign, similar to what was done for tobacco years ago.
Consumer safety was something that we didn't expect. You'll see in the slide examples of gummy bears, lollipops, and cotton candy that were being distributed on the black market and the grey market of medical...in Washington. The board actually wrote a rule. Edibles or infused products can be especially appealing to children—anything that mimics candies. Believe it or not, that was out in the marketplace, in the black and grey market of medical. We have a four-person committee here at the board that looks up all packaging, labelling, and products. Many products have been denied. Again, anything that might be appealing to children is not allowed.
As to some of the current challenges, obviously the conflict in federal law continues to be an issue. If we had time we could talk about the issues or difficulties with accessing banking services. Because of the rigorous process that we have for licensing, we've been more successful than the other states. We have four regional credit unions and state-chartered banks that have provided banking services. Typically what we'll do is that after they sign a release, we provide the licensing file to the banks, which has the criminal background check that was done and the source of funding. They often tie into our traceability system so they can see the money that's being reported and the sales that are being reported to the state, to see if that meets up with what's happening with their bank accounts.