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Washington State Announces Social Equity Applications for March 1

Officially, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has announced that they will be opening social equity applications from March 1. This window will be open for 30 days and close at 5 p.m.

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. Candidates must be a victim of cannabis-related crime or have a relative who was. Finally, the applicant’s income must be less than the state average, which is $82,400.

In order to help potential applicants navigate the licensing process, LCB set up webinars Jan. 24 and 28.

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.”

On March 20, 2020, Governor. Jay Inslee approved House Bill 2870, which was presented to the legislature in March 2020 by Rep. Eric Peettigrew. It became effective 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.”

A new bill is currently being considered that seeks to enhance the existing 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 present raised concerns about market saturation and asked for a reduction in the number of social-equity licenses.

Headset’s December 2022 report revealed that Washington State annual cannabis sales had declined by approximately $120million in 2018 compared with the year before. “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 made significant progress in 2022, working on outdated laws. Governor. 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.”