Washington Social Equity Task Force Makes Legislative Recommendations

The Washington State Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis has called for the state to prioritize race over location for equity applicants and to let funds reserved for equity applicants go to current licensees who would meet the program’s requirements.

Full story after the jump.

Washington state’s Task Force on Social Equity made two motions in their latest meeting on January 26. In their suggestions, they dictate that equity prioritization be based on race rather than location, and to include current I-502 licensees who fit equity criteria in their recent meeting. In response to these motions, state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña introduced SB 5388 on January 29 and state representative Melanie Morgan introduced companion bill HB 1443 on February 1.

The task force — which is made up of members of the Washington state House and Senate; members of the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities; current I-502 licensees; and representatives from several executive agencies including the Department of Commerce — was appointed to make recommendations on how to distribute the state’s reserved $1.1M allocated to assist social equity applicants in attaining retail or producer licenses as dictated by HB 2870.

Following its December meeting, nine I-502 retail owners and producers penned a letter to the Washington State Board of Health urging the entity to open up social equity funding to current license-holders who fit social equity criteria. The letter cites the global pandemic as fiscally challenging for companies with already-tight profit margins, with new CDC protocols and hazard pay to essential workers increasing their daily operating costs. The licensees argued that the task force should first ensure the cannabis market is stable before introducing new license holders, which they argue would best set new equity applicants up for success. Some task force members were opposed, citing that government funds can’t be allocated for one purpose and then used for another based solely on need.

After their meeting in late January, two motions were made — one that shifted the criteria for social equity applicants from being place-based to a prioritization based on race. The prioritization of race follows the motion in December to center Black licensees in their equity efforts. The second motion was to include current I-502 licensees in those eligible to apply for social equity grants.

The Cannabis Observer reported that at one member of the public replied to the latter motion, “How many task [force] members would benefit off this motion?” To which there was no reply.

Rep. Morgan has been working with Sen. Saldaña and her team to craft language in HB 2870 that would widen the scope of their work. With the deadline for recommendations approaching, Morgan said, “House Bill 2870 has really put some barriers around this task force. I feel like we’re trapped inside the current bill that we’re working on, and would love to give us more room to move.”

Along with the focus on serving Black licensee-hopefuls and current I-502 licensees who fit the criteria, the task force’s recommended legislation also calls for the launch of a pilot program by August 2, 2021, to provide technical assistance to retail licensees who meet social equity criteria. The blls would also allocate $150,000 to assist in infrastructure projects, technology upgrades, incubator and mentorship programs, and supplies. Grant recipients would have to show completion of these projects within one year of receiving the grant.

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