For the next session of the Legislature, the board has proposed two bills. One would create what some critics describe as a long-overdue “social equity” program, encouraging greater ownership of marijuana businesses by minorities, women and military veterans. Part of the rationale of legalizing marijuana in Washington state in 2012 was to remedy the disproportionate effect the drug war has had on people of color, but minority ownership of cannabis businesses in the state remains paltry.
While Washington is not currently issuing any more marijuana licenses, 11 of the more than 500 retailers have surrendered their licenses, Garza said. Under the board’s proposal, those could be reissued, or, if cities or counties agree to increase the number of pot shops within their boundaries, new licenses could be granted — this time, to participants in the social equity program.
Businesses would be eligible if they are owned by a woman, minority or veteran, or if a majority of its ownership group are members of a “protected class” under state anti-discrimination law. Applicants would be barred from consideration if any owner already has a majority share of another cannabis retail license.
The legislation would also create a technical assistance program run by the Department of Commerce that would provide grants totaling at least $100,000 per year to help minority-, woman- or veteran-owned businesses navigate the licensing process, receive compliance and financial training, and buy equipment, software or facilities.
The Washington CannaBusiness Association, an industry group, said it agrees there is a need for a social equity program, and it’s been working on its own version.
“We think there’s an opportunity to go even beyond” what the board is proposing, said spokesman Aaron Pickus.
Another legislative proposal would allow struggling “tier one” producers — the smallest size, limited to 2,000 square feet (186 square meters) of plants — to sell medical-grade product directly to the state’s 36,000 registered marijuana patients. The patients have long complained that they have a hard time finding medical-grade cannabis, which must go through additional testing for pesticides and heavy metals, in retail stores, and Garza said the proposal could help the patients while giving the growers an incentive to offer more medically compliant product.