Hundreds of cannabis industry professionals gathered for a keynote speech from Washington Governor Jay Inslee to kick off CannaCon Seattle on February 15, 2018. Inslee's speech was full of praise for the cannabis entrepreneurs who have built a multi-billion–dollar industry in the few short years since Washington State legalized recreational cannabis in November 2012.
"This does not happen by accident. Entrepreneurs have taken great risks to join this industry," the governor stated as he addressed the CannaCon crowd. He also gave a shout-out to the people of Washington who voted in favor of Initiative 502, which paved the way for recreational dispensaries to open across the state in 2014.
"Prohibition was failing, so Washington voters spoke out," Inslee said.
The Jeff Sessions Issue
A central theme of Governor Inslee's 15-minute speech was the well-publicized pushback from the federal government on marijuana legalization, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The governor pledged to follow the will of Washington State voters and not allow Sessions to disrupt the thriving industry. "The Attorney General wants to blind himself from the successful information we have," Inslee said. "What I can share with you at the moment is that the US attorneys have basically said they have not planned any changes in the existing policies that have taken place. We hope that will continue. We think that it should."
The Right Policies
The governor stressed that a critical factor behind the success of cannabis legalization is having "the right policies" in place, including mandates to discourage youth cannabis consumption and prevent cannabis grown and sold in Washington from being diverted to other states. "I am particularly appreciative that the evidence to date has not shown an increase in youthful consumption. I think that’s a healthy thing," Inslee stated, which was met by loud applause from the audience.
Another element of the effective policies is the statewide traceability system, which tracks every commercially grown plant through its growth, distribution, and sale. "Having an accurate tracking licensee system is very important to assure public safety in this regard. It has demonstrated appropriately to the federal government that we are doing our utmost to having a very high-quality system with integrity on the public tracing system," the governor commented.
Tracking System Hack
Ironically, the Washington tracking system was hacked just a week earlier, as the state switched over to a new traceability software from Leaf Data Systems on February 1. The hacker removed four days' worth of cannabis delivery records from the database, among other information. The governor discussed the possibility that the perpetrators of the tracking system hack could have been a rival software manufacturer, attempting to expose flaws in the Leaf Data Systems software.
"Most hacking that is done in our economy is done because people want to steal personal information and then sell it to identity thieves," Inslee said. "That is generally what is motivating hacking. This situation was not that. It was simply to bring down the system. It was an intentional corruption of the system that was intended to make it dysfunctional. Who would have motivations just to make our system break down? Well, just malicious graffiti folks that just are malicious, possibly. Vendors who are competing with the vendor that we do business with to demonstrate that their system doesn’t work, that’s a possibility."
Approaching the Alcohol Industry
Cannabis is now a $3.2 billion industry in Washington, which is nearly 2% of total state revenues. According to Governor Inslee, revenues from legal weed are now approaching the revenues of Washington's alcohol industry. "No one would have predicted the success of that in this regard," he said.
The governor urged cannabis entrepreneurs to maintain productive relationships with local and state legislators, which will result in a strong dialogue between different constituents of the weed industry. "I encourage you to get to know your legislators," he stated. "I’m very serious about this because your legislators are very focal to the success of your business. I encourage you to get to know them on a first-name basis, so when you have a concern, you can bring it to them and they know who they are talking about."
A Message of Hope
The keynote speech ended with a huge “thank you” to cannabis entrepreneurs for building a thriving industry. "I just want to thank you for your leadership. I want to thank you for helping build an industry that has $3.2 billion of sales already. I want to thank you for help financing our government," Governor Inslee commented. He then thanked the cannabis community for remaining patient as the state government works through the hacking issues that have surfaced since the switch to Leaf Data Systems’ tracking software.
"We want to keep the wheels on this very successful effort. So I will look forward to meeting you hopefully next year if I’m invited, and we can come back and talk about the further success of a growing industry. This is Washington entrepreneurship at its best. Let’s keep this train on the tracks," Inslee stated, before exiting the stage to a standing ovation.