Washington Social Equity Application Nears Deadline

Washington state applicants have until March 30.

The state of Washington is set to dole out more than 40 new cannabis retail licenses this month to so-called social equity applicants––but the deadline is fast approaching. 

With the application period kicking off on March 1, qualified prospective license holders have until March 30 to apply. 

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, a state regulatory agency overseeing the two industries, is handling the social equity applications. 

According to the agency, more than 40 licenses that “were forfeited, cancelled, revoked or never issued will be available in specific jurisdictions across the state” as part of the program.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board says that, in order to qualify for the social equity cannabis program, applicants must meet the following criteria:

“At least a 51 percent majority, or controlling interest, in the applicant, must be held by a person(s), who has or have resided in Washington state for six months prior to the application date, and meets at least two of the following qualifications: lived in a disproportionately impacted area (DIA) in Washington state for a minimum of five years between 1980 and 2010 … OR applicant or a family member has been arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense; OR household income was less than the median household income within the state of Washington ($82,400).” 

According to Axios, applicants “who have served time in prison for a cannabis offense will get higher priority when it comes to distributing the social equity licenses,” as will those applicants who “make less than the state’s median income, and who have lived in areas with high rates of drug convictions, poverty, and unemployment.”

Social equity provisions have become the norm in states that legalize recreational cannabis for adults, as advocates have stressed the importance of remedying harms inflicted on individuals and communities in the era of prohibition. 

But in Washington, which became one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana back in 2012, those social equity provisions did not come until later. 

The ballot measure approved by voters there more than a decade ago, Initiative 502, “did not include provisions or create programs to acknowledge the disproportionate harms the enforcement of cannabis laws had on certain populations and communities,” the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board explained earlier this year, when it announced the more than 40 social equity applications that would be made available

The state created the social equity cannabis program in 2020, when the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, signed a bill into law that provided “the opportunity to provide a limited number of cannabis retail licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.”

“The LCB recognizes that cannabis prohibition laws were disproportionately enforced for decades and that the cumulative harms from this enforcement remain today,” the agency explains on its website. “In 2020, in response to a policy priority identified by the Board, the LCB developed agency-request legislation created the state Social Equity program, the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force and the opportunity to provide a limited number of cannabis retail licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws.”

But the state clearly still has a lot of work to do; as Axios noted, more than 10 years after the voters there made history, Washington’s cannabis industry “remains dominated by white entrepreneurs.”

The State Liquor and Cannabis Board reported in January 2020 that 82% of cannabis retailers in Washington were owned by white individuals. Only 3% were owned by Black residents, and 2% were Hispanic-owned. 

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