Washington Governor Signs Bill Expanding Social Equity Licenses
Washington will add dozens of more cannabis retail shops to its existing adult-use market in the next decade after the state’s governor signed a bill into law on Monday.
The measure, signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, is aimed at bolstering the social equity component of the state’s legal marijuana program.
Under the terms of the new law, the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board is to “issue up to 52 cannabis retailer licenses” between January 1, 2024 and July 1, 2032 to individuals who qualify for the social equity program.
Per Axios, that represents “almost a 10% increase over the current number of licensed pot shops, which has been capped at 556 statewide since 2016.”
According to the bill’s official summary, an individual who qualifies for the social equity program is someone who: “has at least 51 percent ownership and control by one or more individuals who have resided in a DIA for a period of time defined in the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (LCB) rules after consultation with other specified entities; has at least 51 percent ownership and control by at least one individual who has been convicted of a cannabis offense, a drug offense, or is a family member of such an individual; or meets criteria defined in LCB rules after consultation with other specified entities.”
The bill also “waives annual fees, and provides a one-time, one-license annual fee reimbursement to current cannabis licensees who submit a social equity plan to [the Liquor and Cannabis Board],” according to a press release from Democratic lawmakers.
“Building pathways of opportunity and flexibility for people of color disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs is not only a moral imperative, but a crucial step towards a more just and equitable society,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña. “We heal the harms of the past by our commitment to action and change today.”
Democratic lawmakers in Washington say that state data “reveals that the vast majority of Washington’s cannabis business owners are white, and only 4% of the state’s retail cannabis licenses went to Black applicants,” and that the bill “helps create a more inclusive cannabis licensing program for Black and brown business owners in Washington.”
“The bill also amends the definitions of ‘disproportionately impacted area,’ ‘social equity applicant,’ and ‘social equity plan’ in the program, and modifies the time period for cannabis licensees to qualify for a social equity technical assistance grant. It enables additional retail stores to be established over time, giving social equity licensees more flexibility in choosing a location, while also preserving local control over zoning and outlet density,” Democrats said in the press release.
Inslee, who announced this week that he will not seek a fourth term in next year’s gubernatorial election, said that he will be calling a special legislative session that will focus on “passing a new drug possession law.”
The special session is scheduled for May 16.
The regular legislative session ended on April 23, before lawmakers there were able to pass a new drug possession law, which was needed after the “Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s felony drug possession law in 2021, ruling it unconstitutional,” according to Washington public radio station KUOW.
“Legislators put in place a temporary fix that treated drug possession as a misdemeanor. That measure, known as the Blake fix, is set to expire over the summer,” the station reported.
Inslee said that he and aides in his office “have been meeting with legislators from all four caucuses and I am very optimistic about reaching an agreement that can pass both chambers.”
“Cities and counties are eager to see a statewide policy that balances accountability and treatment, and I believe we can produce a bipartisan bill that does just that. Details are still being negotiated, but caucus leaders share the desire to pass a bill. I believe that starting the clock on May 16 will put us on a path to getting the job done this month,” Inslee said in a statement on Tuesday.