Washington State Announces Social Equity Applications for March 1

After three years since Washington enacted a social equity program, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is finally ready to open up applications.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has officially announced that it will open up social equity applications on March 1. The window for applications will only last 30 days, ending by 5 p.m. on the deadline.

Only 44 licenses that were previously “forfeited, canceled, revoked, or never issued” are being made available to those who qualify. Applicants must have been living in a disproportionately impacted area (DIA), which is defined as having a high poverty rate, participation in “income-based federal programs,” unemployment, and rate of convictions, between 1980 to 2010. Applicants must have been convicted of a cannabis-related offense themselves, or know a family member who was convicted as well. Finally, the applicant’s income must be less than the state average, which is $82,400.

The LCB has set up webinars for Jan. 24 and 28 in order to assist potential applicants through the licensing process.

While social equity has become a standard in the industry, especially in states that have only recently legalized adult-use cannabis, Washington State’s initial legalization did not include these provisions. 

“The 2012 ballot measure Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use of cannabis by adults, did not include provisions or create programs to acknowledge the disproportionate harms the enforcement of cannabis laws had on certain populations and communities,” the LCB stated. “The LCB recognizes that cannabis prohibition laws were disproportionately enforced for decades and that the cumulative harms from this enforcement remain today.”

In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2870 (which was introduced to the legislature by Rep. Eric Pettigrew), which took effect on June 12, 2020. This created a state social equity program, a Social Equity 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.”

Currently, there is a new bill being proposed that aims to improve upon the original social equity bill. Senate Bill 5080’s first hearing was held on Jan. 10 with the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, Washington CannaBusiness Association, and Craft Cannabis Coalition. Many who were present discussed their concerns with market oversaturation, asking that the number of social equity licenses be reduced.

In December 2022, a Headset report found that annual cannabis sales in Washington State were in decline by about $120 million in comparison to data from the previous year. “From March 2020 to March 2021, legacy cannabis markets saw drastic increases in growth,” wrote Headset about the decrease. “In the beginning months of the pandemic for example, Colorado’s total adult-use sales grew by 63% from February to July 2020.” However, the increase of sales during the pandemic prompted an unusual meteoric rise. “What you’re seeing as a ‘dip’ is really sales returning to normal growth as more people returned to in-person work,” said LCB spokesperson Brian Smith. He added that this downward trend isn’t isolated to just Washington state, but is being seen across the country in other legal states as well.

Washington State also made strides in 2022 to work on other outdated laws. In April 2022, Gov. Inslee signed House Bill 1210, which replaced all references of “marijuana” in state legislation with “cannabis.” According to bill sponsor Rep. Melanie Morgan, the connotations behind marijuana needed to be removed. “The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Morgan said. “As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants. Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is, we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis.”

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