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Washington’s Big-Brained Marijuana Team Takes the Field

Project Leader was a Skeptic in California, a Believer in Washington

Washington state Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster (at microphone), joined by board project manager Randy Simmons (far left) and agency Director Pat Kohler (front row, holding papers), roll out some of the members of the state’s new marijuana consultant team at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Liquor Control Board headquarters in Olympia. From left are: Michael Sautman, former CEO of Bedrocan International; Lowry Heussler, general counsel for BOTEC Analysis Corp.; David Lampach, president and co-founder of Steep Hill Lab; Steven Davenport, BOTEC managing director; and Beau Kilmer, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp.

Washington state Liquor Control Board Chair Sharon Foster (at microphone), joined by board project manager Randy Simmons (far left) and agency Director Pat Kohler (front row, holding papers), roll out some of the members of the state’s new marijuana consultant team at a news conference Tuesday morning at the Liquor Control Board headquarters in Olympia. From left are: Michael Sautman, former CEO of Bedrocan International; Lowry Heussler, general counsel for BOTEC Analysis Corp.; David Lampach, president and co-founder of Steep Hill Lab; Steven Davenport, BOTEC managing director; and Beau Kilmer, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp.

LACEY, March 19.–BOTEC is an acronym for Back of the Envelope Calculation, according to Steven Davenport, managing director for the Massachusetts-based think tank.

The acronym expresses an odd sentiment in light of the company’s winning bid to be the marijuana consultant for Washington’s Liquor Control Board. BOTEC Analysis Corporation’s response to the Liquor Board’s request for proposal runs to nearly 50 pages – and that’s single-spaced.

Washington’s commitment to regulating legal marijuana use in the state just got a whole lot deeper. On Tuesday morning, the state’s Liquor Control Board announced the successful bidder for its position of marijuana consultant, and it introduced some of the key members of the prime contractor’s team. The team’s task is unprecedented and daunting: Provide accurate data and insight so the state can enter a world where marijuana growing, distribution and sales are regulated and taxed, and help ensure that the whole thing doesn’t turn into a complete disaster. And they have to do it all by the end of the year.

Members of the team come from nearly every corner of the country and include university professors, company CEOs, lawyers, chemists, a senior policy researcher for the Rand Corporation, and financial, horticultural, marketing, toxicology and tax experts.  And, for good measure, Thomas Schelling, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner in economics.

It’s an assemblage of brain wattage that comes at $292 an hour. The board has an initial amount of $100,000 to spend on the consultants.

Randy Simmons, Initiative 502 project manager for the liquor board, said BOTEC’s proposal was one of 112 received by the agency, of which 52 were reviewed by eight evaluators who weighed the proposals in four categories: product and industry knowledge; product quality standards and testing; product usage and consumption validation; and product regulation.

Michael Sautman, former CEO of Bedrocan International, answers a question Tuesday morning as Steven Davenport, BOTEC managing director, looks on.

Michael Sautman, former CEO of Bedrocan International, answers a question Tuesday morning as Steven Davenport, BOTEC managing director, looks on.

“(BOTEC) finished first in all four categories by all eight reviewers,” Simmons said.

Davenport will be the project manager for the effort in Washington state.

“Our role is purely advisory,” Davenport said at the Tuesday news conference. “All decisions will be made by the board  … We’ve assembled the most skilled and knowledgeable experts, spanning a broad range of sciences and business practices essential to aligning a healthy licit cannabis industry with beneficial public impacts.”

According to BOTEC’s bid, some of these experts include:

Michael Sautman, former CEO of Bedrocan International, a grower of medicinal cannabis for the Dutch Ministry of Health, is an expert in producing standardized cannabis products on an industrial scale in a regulated environment. He’ll be in charge of product and industry knowledge.

David Lampach is president and co-founder of Steep Hill Lab, a marijuana testing company based in California. He is an expert in applying technology and instruments to analyzing cannabis. Lampach will oversee product quality and standards and testing.

Beau Kilmer is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and director of the RAND Drug Policy Research. He’s done plenty of research into patterns of marijuana use. Kilmer will oversee product use and consumption validation.

Author and project director Mark Kleiman.

Author and project leader Mark Kleiman.

The project leader and the man who will be the public face of the drive toward implementing I-502 will be Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at UCLA who has written several books about marijuana, including the 2012 book, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” which he co-wrote with three other people, including Kilmer of the Rand Corp. Kleiman is the CEO of BOTEC. He’s Harvard-educated and well-steeped in government policies related to drug use and punishment.

Kleiman wasn’t at Tuesday’s news conference – Davenport said he was teaching a graduate student class at UCLA at the time – but he responded to questions by email.

It’s easy to imagine that Kleiman, 61, never dreamed he would be in a position overseeing the creation of a legalized drug scheme in one of the U.S. states, but he has been a longtime advocate of changing the nation’s policies toward marijuana use.

In a June 2010 op-ed article in The Los Angeles Times, Kleiman wrote, “There’s one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can’t be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won’t happen.”

That was California, but this is Washington, Kleiman said.

“Yes, I think it’s possible the Washington model can be made to work,” he said in an email. “We’re certainly going to help as much as we can.”

At the website Samefacts.com, Kleiman wrote, “The Washington law is much more carefully drafted, with heavy taxation at the state level. Their problem may be, not exports because legal pot is so cheap, but a continued illicit market in Washington because legal pot is so expensive. That gives the federal government good reasons to let the experimentation run. Of course, Washington state will have to make its policies with due regard to what’s likely to happen in Washington, D.C., but it is an accommodation that could be reached.”

That’s the bugaboo that is overhanging the whole process: What will the feds do and when will they do it?

And no one on Washington’s new marijuana team was willing to make an educated guess about that.