Washington’s cannabis industry is poised to welcome diversity among licensees after state legislators approved a bill last week that would introduce the state’s first Marijuana Social Equity Program. The measure, named House Bill 2870 (HB 2870), now awaits on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for final approval.
If signed into law, the bill will enable the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to issue forfeited, canceled and revoked retail licenses to applicants that are members of communities excessively impacted by the War on Drugs.
As written in the bill, the measure’s main objective is to benefit “individuals who have been arrested or incarcerated due to drug laws, and those who have resided in areas of high poverty, suffer long-lasting adverse consequences, including impacts to employment, business ownership, housing, health, and long term financial well-being.”
The program is set to last for eight years, spanning from December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2028, and will cost applicants a total of $1,480 for new social equity licenses.
Prior to the approval, The House originally passed an earlier version of the bill in February this year, with the intention to address racial inequity within the cannabis industry.
Democratic Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the one who sponsored the bill, described the road towards the final bill as a long yet worthwhile struggle.
“I had a chance to meet with some proponents and opponents a little more … and really came to understand that this is beyond the issue of licenses,” Pettigrew said. “This is potentially a different distribution of wealth as we move forward in this industry.”
He, along with the help of stakeholders including Paula Sardinas of the Commission on African American Affairs drafted the proposal.
“We believe we need an LCB that is more reflective of the community it serves,” she said. “It should also have a culture that mirrors the Department of Financial Institutions where education, compliance, and training are priorities along with enforcement,” Sardinas commented.
In 2012, Washington became the first U.S. state to legalized recreational use of marijuana. However, eight years after, the state’s cannabis industry is still struggling with diversity. In a report from the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, less than 1% of the state’s over 500 recreational cannabis licenses were owned by African Americans.
“Initiative 502 missed an opportunity to incorporate a focus on social equity,” said Rick Garza, the director of the LCB, at the time the bill made its way through the legislature. “The history of cannabis prohibition shows abundant evidence there was disproportionate harm in communities of color, and that those harmful effects remain with us today.”