Washington State to Award Unused Cannabis Licenses for Social Equity Program

Existing license holders under the state's social equity program will also benefit from the amendment.

In an effort to promote diversity in Washington’s cannabis industry, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an amendment into law on Monday authorizing the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board to award 46 previously forfeited or never used cannabis licenses to social equity applicants this year.

This initiative, led by Seattle State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, aims to address the imbalance in the industry, where approximately 82% of cannabis retail businesses are not minority-owned, according to LCB data.

Social equity applicants in the state are defined by the law as individuals residing in areas disproportionately affected by cannabis arrests, convictions, or incarceration, or those who have been arrested for such offenses.

First reported by Law360, Saldaña highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for people of color adversely affected by the war on drugs, calling it a “crucial step towards a more just and equitable society.”

The LCB expressed its support for the law in a statement on Monday, acknowledging board member Ollie Garrett’s advocacy for the legislation and her concerns regarding the lack of diversity in the state’s regulated cannabis industry over the past four years. The LCB operates the state’s Social Equity in Cannabis Program.

Licenses eligible for redistribution under the law include those forfeited by previous owners, as well as those canceled, revoked, or never issued by the LCB. By the end of the year, the state agency will grant 46 retail licenses to qualifying applicants under the social equity program.

A number of these licenses were initially allocated to regions where local governments banned the sale of cannabis. The law now permits a one-time relocation of retail permits by applicants.

Furthermore, the law allows for the issuance of up to 52 new retail cannabis licenses to social equity applicants in 2024, with the exact number contingent on state population growth.

Additionally, the law enables the state regulator to issue up to 100 processor licenses and 10 licenses by 2032.

License holders under the state’s social equity program will also benefit from an exemption from annual fees for issuance, re-issuance, or renewal of any cannabis license until after June 2032, thanks to the amendment.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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