Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed a bill that will immediately impact the diversity of the state’s cannabis industry. The bill, also known as HB 2870, is designed “to reduce barriers to entry to the cannabis industry for individuals and communities most adversely impacted by the enforcement of cannabis-related laws.”
Balancing the Scale
In a time where everyone seems to be focused on the Coronavirus, Washington is able to create some good news. Business owners have experienced a racial/social unbalance amongst license distribution. This has created hardship for minorities and low-income entrepreneurs. As a result, Inslee is attempting to correct this disproportion with this bill.
“Initiative 502 missed an opportunity to incorporate a focus on social equity,” Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) Director Rick Garza previously told lawmakers. “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.”
This problem didn’t surface overnight. Washington has had this problem since 2012 when the state first legalized cannabis. To further prove this assessment, the state Commission on African American Affairs gather data from the LCB.
According to their findings, it is estimated 1 percent of processing licenses have been issued to African American. Unfortunately, Washington isn’t the only state to experience this. New York, for example, also struggled to balance racial disparities amongst license distribution and arrests.
Social Equity Program
As part of the bill, Inslee will create a social equity program, creating more opportunities for these people. There are several requirements to meet before qualifying. First, the applicant’s neighborhood must qualify as a “disproportionately impacted area.” Any of the following reasons will qualify an area as such:
- Unemployment rates
- participation in income-based government programs
- punishment of cannabis-related crimes.
Finally, to qualify for this plan the applicant must also submit a “social equity plan” that demonstrates how their business would help contribute to goals of equity and diversity.
“HB 2870 creates a new social equity program that provides business opportunities to people from disproportionately-harmed communities so they can benefit economically from the cannabis industry and become a cannabis retailer,” said Inslee.
Social equity has improved every year since the pioneer states legalized cannabis. Today, this idea has become the main priority for many states. For example, Illinois, Michigan, and Massachusetts have all included equity measures within their legalization.
Washington was one of the first to legalize cannabis back in 2012. Since then, the state and advocates have been working together to close the gap between social and racial equity. This bill is the first of many small steps the state will require to balance the inequity. Unfortunately, this process won’t happen overnight.
Overall, this proves to be some good news in a time when it’s hard to find. Although COVID-19 continues to affect the world, the cannabis industry continues to provide positive news. In a time like this, it’s the little things that will really help. Once this virus passes, more people in Washington will have an opportunity to start a cannabis-related business.