Rep. Pettigrew’s bill increasing social equity in cannabis industry heads to Gov. Inslee

OLYMPIA — The Legislature gave final approval today (Tue., Mar. 10) to a bill intended to improve equity in the awarding of licenses to participate in Washington’s cannabis industry. House Bill 2870, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37th, Seattle), will establish a Marijuana Social-Equity Program (MSEP) authorizing the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to issue previously forfeited, cancelled, or revoked marijuana retail licenses to “social-equity applicants” disproportionately impacted in the past by America’s so-called war on drugs.

“It’s a great start,” Pettigrew said, “to allow for more opportunities for people of color to be a part of this growing industry, and to reap the benefits not only for their business community but for the entire community. When we first started issuing those licenses, it was easy access for those who had a lot of resources and understood the process.

“Not surprisingly,” he continued, “this made it difficult if not impossible for many would-be entrepreneurs in communities of color, especially African Americans and Latinos, to obtain licenses to grow and process marijuana, or to open retail shops. This gives us an opportunity to go back and offer more equal access to citizens throughout the state.”

The bill also calls for the Department of Commerce to offer technical assistance grants to marijuana retail license applicants who submit a social-equity plan, and sets up a task force to make recommendations to the LCB on developing, implementing and improving the MSEP.

Quoting from the bill report prepared by non-partisan legislative staff, “a social-equity applicant is an applicant with majority ownership and control by at least one individual who (1) has resided in a disproportionately impacted area for at least five of the preceding 10 years, or (2) has been convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense or is a family member of such an individual. A disproportionately impacted area is a census tract or comparable geographic area with a high rate of (1) poverty and unemployment, (2) participation in income-based or state programs, and (3) arrest, conviction, and incarceration related to the sale, possession, use, cultivation, manufacture or transport of cannabis.”

If signed by Gov. Jay Inslee as expected, HB 2870 will take effect on June 10, 2020, 90 days after the March 12 adjournment of the current legislative session.

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