Many observers of the marijuana legalization movement have made note of the inability to attract minority entrepreneurs to the booming industry. In order to combat that, Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently signed into law HB 2870 – a bill that seemingly promotes diversity in the marijuana industry. The bill allows state regulators to funnel unused marijuana business licenses to people from communities which have been negatively impacted by the drug war.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) estimates that around 1% of marijuana production and processing licenses have been issued to African Americans. In comparison, before Washington voters approved marijuana legalization, black people in the state were nearly three times as likely as white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to crime data analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Not surprisingly, the black community is seeking compensation for years of police enforcement of marijuana laws that some say have unfairly targeted their community. Community leaders feel that if anyone is to benefit from the change in marijuana’s legal status, it should be those who have suffered under the outdated and oppressive marijuana laws.
The new law aims to correct the past wrongs by taking revoked or forfeited marijuana retail licenses and setting them aside for members of communities that have been negatively affected by marijuana prohibition. Members of affected communities could be eligible for one of the available licenses if they have lived several years in an area that suffered from especially high marijuana arrest rates. Those who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses could also be eligible, as could family members of people who are impacted by aggressive enforcement of marijuana prohibitions. Additionally, $1 million per year will go towards providing technical assistance to people who get licenses through the bill’s social-equity program, with the goal of helping them navigate compliance rules and other state requirements.
However, some believe that the new law does not go far enough. For example, the law does not address the issuance of processing and production marijuana licenses. Only retail licenses are included in the bill. With the majority of marijuana licenses going to processing and production, there is a smaller number of revoked or forfeited retail licenses available for redistribution. Critics allege that in order for there to be true equity in access to the industry, all marijuana licenses should have been included in the bill. Still, the law marks an important milestone in marijuana legislation, and several other states have taken note and have even introduced similar legislation. In any event, like most things that have been added to reform the I-502 industry, it looks like it may be months (maybe years) before the program will be implemented.