Washington State Boosts Diversity in Cannabis Industry with Social Equity Licensing Initiative
WASHINGTON– In a progressive move to foster diversity within Washington’s cannabis sector, Governor Jay Inslee approved a law amendment on Monday, enabling the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to assign 46 forfeited or unutilized cannabis licenses to social equity candidates this year.
Seattle State Senator Rebecca Saldaña spearheaded the initiative to combat the industry’s prevalent inequality, with LCB data revealing that nearly 82% of cannabis retail businesses lack minority ownership. The law defines social equity applicants as individuals from areas disproportionately impacted by cannabis-related arrests, convictions, or incarceration, or those who have experienced such legal consequences.
Saldaña emphasized the significance of offering opportunities to communities of color who have been adversely affected by the war on drugs, considering it a “crucial step towards a more just and equitable society.” Law360 was the first to report on this development.
LCB showed its endorsement of the law on Monday and acknowledged the persistent advocacy for this legislation by board member Ollie Garrett, who has expressed concerns about the state’s regulated cannabis industry’s diversity deficit over the past four years. The LCB administers Washington’s Social Equity in Cannabis Program.
Licenses eligible for reassignment under the law encompass those previously forfeited, canceled, revoked, or unissued by the LCB. By year’s end, the state agency is expected to award 46 retail licenses to qualified applicants participating in the social equity program.
Several licenses were initially designated for regions with local government bans on cannabis sales. The new law now allows for a one-time relocation of retail permits by applicants. Moreover, the amendment stipulates the allocation of up to 52 new retail cannabis licenses to social equity applicants in 2024, depending on the state’s population growth.
In addition, the law authorizes the state regulator to issue up to 100 processor licenses and 10 licenses by 2032. Furthermore, the amendment offers a financial reprieve to existing license holders under the state’s social equity program, exempting them from annual fees for issuance, re-issuance, or renewal of any cannabis license until after June 2032.
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