Washington state bolsters marijuana social equity program

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that strengthens a social equity program enacted in 2020 to provide more marijuana retail opportunities to minority businesses in the state.

This year’s measure, HB 1443, expands and further defines a social equity program that provides retail license priority, grants and other technical assistance to individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

Lawmakers in 2020 passed HB 2870, which created the Marijuana Social Equity Program.

It’s unclear how successful the program will be because the state has a mature marijuana program with entrenched operators.

Under last year’s law, beginning Dec. 1, 2020, state regulators were able to prioritize unassigned retail licenses – such as ones that were forfeited or revoked – to social equity applicants.

According to data self-reported to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board last year, well less than 20% of marijuana retail owners identified themselves as minorities.

That included 7% Asian, 4% multiracial, 3% Black, 2% Hispanic and 1% other.