In 2019, HB2870 established the Washington State Cannabis Social Equity Task Force. This task force marks the beginning of an eight-year review of cannabis in Washington State to ensure the industry is serving the communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.
The main objective of the working group is to develop a social justice agenda. They will contribute by reporting to the Governor and the Legislature on the factors the LCB should consider in issuing permits and the appropriateness of issuing additional permits.
With the first meeting on October 26, 2020, there is still much work to do, but their mission is beginning to take shape. At its December 14 meeting, the working group decided to focus on combating black racism by formulating its recommendations.
When Commissioner Paula Sardinas of the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs took over as chair, she was about to dismantle an industry that has repeatedly ignored black Americans who have paid the price for the war on drugs. The task force’s vote to prioritize anti-black racism in its recommendations recognizes 400 years of oppression and is a step toward dismantling the structural racism embedded in Washington’s cannabis framework.
Sardines has a unique role as commissioner and lobbyist. She works diligently to distinguish the roles. As a black woman personally affected by the war on drugs, she does not represent a labor party or any other organization. When she began lobbying pro bono for the black community in the cannabis industry, she was the first black lobbyist to enter the field. Her experience in the field led her to demand transparency and accountability from the LCB in Washington and from politicians. A first step in that direction would be for politicians to disclose who pays for their campaigns, which Sardina says is a crucial step in dismantling the racist structures that permeate the space.
Another aspect of the social justice process in Washington would be a policy based on data from ACLU reports on how the war on drugs has directly and permanently harmed the black community. This data, coupled with census data showing where BIPOCs live and crime statistics related to drug use, arrests and convictions in these communities, as well as factors of systemic poverty, will highlight where this work needs to be done. This background study should be conducted with a forward-looking policy perspective, as we do for the technology and pharmaceutical industries.
“The task force is expected to recommend urgent and important legislation in 2021. HB2870 has serious flaws that cannot wait. The black community and #BIPOC have waited years for justice. A bill to address inequities by 2021 could solve this problem. Any politician unwilling to legislate is not protecting the people, but working in their own interests.” – Commissioner Paula Sardinas, in a statement to
By scrutinizing the sector from time to time and predicting where it will be in five years, policymakers can identify future opportunities, and these opportunities must be given to black and brown licensees to deliver on the promise of social equity. For right now, 35 of the 600 permits issued to social equity candidates are simply not enough.
Commissioner Sardina is also committed to ensuring that homosexuals and other marginalized groups in Washington have a place, along with the black community, in the social equality process. In general, the people who set social equality policies are simply irrelevant to the day-to-day experiences of BIPOC and homosexuals. Showing up at an open commercial rental office, for example, is only possible if an agent identifies you as black or gay – an experience some people will never understand. The commissioner is asking people who have had bad experiences with licensing or who simply want to share their experiences with the LCB to virtually participate in the next Social Justice Working Group meeting in Washington.
“If you are black, trans, heterosexual or interested in cannabis, please come to the next meeting and let us know what you think,” Commissioner Sardinas said. “We don’t have a policy of generating business for this community if we don’t hear from them.”
Editor’s Note (1/21/2021): The next meeting of the Social Justice Working Group is scheduled for January 25, 2021. The meeting has not yet set a date for the publication of this article.
Kara Whitstock is a seasoned cannabis expert and author with over a decade of experience in the industry. She lives in Washington State where she spends her free time doing Ashtanga yoga, reading exciting novels and hanging out with her cats.
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