[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]A[/dropcap]s of March, all Washington cannabis processors must jump through another regulatory compliance hoop by obtaining a special endorsement from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) if they wish to manufacture cannabis-infused edibles. This change coincided with the WSDA’s assumption of regulatory authority to license and regulate makers of food products that contain cannabis. The WSDA will now work in conjunction with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to ensure that cannabis edibles are safe.
In general, the WSDA’s Food Safety Program “regulates, inspects and provides technical assistance to food processors regarding product safety issues.” The WSDA will now provide those same services to licensed cannabis processors. According to the WSDA, these services will include assessing facility construction, equipment, cleaning and sanitizing practices, allowable products, labeling and carrying out enforcement and recalls when necessary.
The chapter WAC 16-131 now regulates “Marijuana Infused Edibles” (MIEs) and provides that cannabis processors must both obtain a MIE endorsement and comply with all laws to which other food processors are subject, including the Washington Food Processing Act, food inspection rules and rules governing intrastate commerce in foods. Processors that possess an MIE endorsement must also obtain approval from the WSDA for each MIE before offering that MIE for sale to consumers.
Both the initial endorsement cost and each annual renewal carry a fee of $895 and will be available only to processors licensed by the LCB. A MIE endorsement cannot be added to a Food Processor license. Additionally, MIE products cannot be processed at a facility that processes non-cannabis food products, and non-cannabis food products cannot be processed at a facility that produces MIE products. Each facility must have a separate endorsement. In order to apply, processors should go to the Washington State Department of Revenue Business Licensing Service website, login to their licensed cannabis processor business account, follow the steps to add a specialty license endorsement, and complete and submit the MIE Processor License Endorsement application and fee to the Department of Revenue.
Before this regulatory shift, the LCB contracted with the WSDA to provide facility inspections of MIE processors, so in practice, this change shouldn’t come as a shock. The LCB still retains authority over cannabis activities like processor license requirements, packaging and labeling. Processors that are currently in compliance with food-related regulations for MIEs will not need to re-submit food safety information (i.e., floor plan, sanitation procedures) when applying for their MIE endorsement. If there are no changes to previously approved ownership, location and products, the WSDA will not require an inspection or additional information for a processor’s initial application.
The WSDA will inspect all processing facilities within the first 12 months of endorsement and may request additional information based on that inspection. If any changes to the MIE processor’s ownership, facility location or products are planned during the licensing period, both the WSDA and the LCB must be notified of those proposed changes. The WSDA recommends that all first-time MIE processor applicants contact both the WSDA and the LCB to discuss this initial licensing process.
“The WSDA will inspect all processing facilities within the first 12 months of endorsement and may request additional information based on that inspection.”
As a result of the WSDA’s ability to undertake enforcement action and implement recalls, processors of MIEs should expect to interact with the WSDA on a more regular basis. According to a letter issued by the WSDA on March 19, processors “may experience more frequent inspections, as well as more outreach efforts and industry engagement.” Although it’s unlikely that Washington cannabis business owners are looking forward to increased regulation and additional permits and fees, this transition should help to streamline the state’s regulation of cannabis edibles.