State regulators reverse one change made amid the pandemic, but fate of the rest remains unclear

As vaccination counts climb and guidance on masks and distancing rolls back, the end of the coronavirus pandemic is starting to come into view. Businesses continue to reopen, life is steadily returning to normal, and the cannabis industry is starting to see some tangible effects from these positive changes.

Last week, the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board, or LCB, announced that it would resume compliance checks. Compliance checks are when the LCB visits a retail store and sends in a minor who tries to buy cannabis or another age-restricted product. The LCB hasn't done in-person compliance checks since March 2020, when the pandemic first took hold.

The suspension of compliance checks was one of a handful of changes that came to the cannabis industry on the heels of Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-home order in the early days of the pandemic.

Curbside pickup, walk-up window service and free giveaways of masks and sanitizer were the three most visible customer-facing changes that the pandemic spawned. They're still in place. Now that compliance checks are back, what's next for those other changes made last year?

The LCB's stance is: "Unless indicated otherwise, these temporary modifications are effective immediately and in place through Gov. Inslee's Emergency Declaration period or until rescinded by the LCB, whichever is sooner."

That is to say, these changes weren't meant to be permanent. Unless the LCB takes action to make them permanent, the changes will revert to their pre-pandemic normal as soon as the governor declares the pandemic to be over, if not sooner.

It makes sense that compliance checks have returned now that they can be done safely. The rationale for rolling back the other changes isn't as clear. If a customer can buy a product at a walk-up window or from their car in the parking lot during a pandemic, why shouldn't they be able to after the pandemic is over?

As of yet, the LCB hasn't suggested that it will allow any of these changes to stick. But it has been lobbied by people within the industry. "Cinder has expressed how much we love it to the LCB. I'm sure others have as well," Keegan McClung, marketing director at the Spokane cannabis retailer Cinder, told the Inlander in April.

While pandemic-related uncertainty is fading in most aspects of life, some specific issues, such as these changes to the cannabis industry, remain up in the air. ♦

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