New Legislation to Improve Cannabis Equity in Washington

Mary Mart

With the coronavirus pandemic happening all around us, the world feels unrecognizable. Governor Inslee has initiated a “stay at home” order. Our social media and news feeds are saturated with the latest COVID-19 updates. We need some good news to offset the unsettling anxiety! And what better news than legislative improvements in cannabis equity in Washington?

House Bill 2870 — a bill for cannabis equity in Washington — has passed in both the House and Senate and is currently waiting to be signed into law. But what exactly is in the bill and what does it mean for the cannabis industry? Read on to find out.

 

How Did House Bill 2870 Come to Be?

We Need Change

Before this legislation was drafted, the LCB contracted an independent review of their organization. The review concluded the LCB is in need of a “cultural change.” 

Currently, LCB officers’ focus is on penalizing noncomliance, instead of aiding and educating. The cultural shift in the LCB would mean officers would do more to help educate retailers and producers/processors in order to help them be compliant. LCB director Rick Garza is even reconsidering the uniform policy so as not to have as many officers carrying guns.

In an effort to boost the cultural change, the LCB requested cannabis equity legislation, among other new legislation. Enter House Bill 2870; written and advised by Commissioner Paula Sardinas and Joy Hollingsworth of The Hollingsworth Company

 

How Will House Bill 2870 Improve Cannabis Equity in Washington?

Lady justice with scales

Using previously forfeited, revoked, or canceled retail licenses, the LCB would issue licenses based on social equity standards. Meaning, applicants disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition laws will have priority. Things like race, gender, and previous cannabis convictions would be considered.

Plus, the bill would create a grant accelerator program. This program would lend financial and technical assistance to license holders, using $100,000 in allocated funds from the Dedicated Marijuana Account (i.e. funds from cannabis taxes).

The bill establishes a task force that has until December 1, 2020, to create and develop the grant program and make recommendations to the LCB. From there, up until July 1, 2028, the LCB will issue all those extra licenses to applicants who submit a valid Social Equity Plan.

 

Here Are Some Unanswered Questions About House Bill 2870

About House Bill 2870

One of the biggest lingering questions concerning HB 2870 is how many retail licenses there actually are to spare. According to a Seattle Times article, there are only 13 licenses to distribute. 

That’s a very low number and one that Black Excellence in Cannabis is fighting to increase. Fortunately, one of the bill stipulations is that the LCB has to consider if an increase in the number of licenses is necessary to reach goals of cannabis equity in Washington. 

But that leads to another issue: skepticism and mistrust in LCB officers from those communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. Historically, these communities have been over-policed and have had needs ignored. Building trust in the LCB and their discretion in shaping cannabis equity in Washington will take time. Requesting this legislation is a positive step towards building that trust.

 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, we will have to wait to see what the task force puts together to better understand how the accelerator grant program will work. 

Legislators have a long way to go to improve cannabis equity in Washington. Thankfully, we are seeing those efforts bit-by-bit in new legislation like this and Senate Bill 5867 (resentencing for drug convictions).

Although there should have been cannabis equity standards in place when initially drafting I-502, HB 2870 is a welcome improvement. 

 


 

Stay tuned to the blog for more I-502 updates and other topics!

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From all of us at Mary Mart, we appreciate you and hope you’re staying safe and sanitary!

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