City of Seattle - Forum - Cannabis Equity in Our Community
(February 22, 2020)

Saturday February 22, 2020 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM Observed
City of Seattle Logo

The City of Seattle has organized the forum "to share preliminary information from a review of the disparate racial impacts of the criminalization and legalization of cannabis. This is an opportunity to hear from the community about their experiences with the legal cannabis landscape."

The event will be hosted by the Seattle's Department of Finance and Administrative Services; in partnership with the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute; Office of Arts and Culture, and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB).

Forum Panelists

  • Rick Dimmer - Field Enforcement Representative Purchasing and Contracting, a division of the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services
  • Ollie Garrett - Board Member, WSLCB
  • Bobby Lee - Director Office of Economic Development, City of Seattle
  • Cherie MacLeod - Strategic Advisor-Marijuana Program Coordinator Consumer Protection, a division of the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services
  • Elisa Young - Equity and Policy Director, Department of Finance and Administrative Services
  • Kyana Wheeler - Organizational Change Strategist, Seattle Office of Civil Rights
  • Paula Sardinas - Commissioner, Washington State Commission on African American Affairs


The City hosted a town hall format event to gather feedback from communities impacted by the war on drugs while providing details on municipal and state equity efforts including HB 2870.

Here are some observations from the Saturday February 22nd City of Seattle Cannabis Equity in Our Community Forum.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Staff from Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services and Office of Civil Rights welcomed those in attendance before offering background on the City’s equity efforts generally as well as their dedicated Cannabis Equity Project Team.
    • The Cannabis Equity in Our Community Forum was intended as “an opportunity to hear from the community about their experiences with the legal cannabis landscape. Come help us determine how to achieve new opportunities for people of color, those most harmed by structural racism.”
    • The City of Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) organized the event and several City staff participated:
    • Other panelists for the event included:
    • Also attending on behalf of the WSLCB:
      • Chris Thompson, Director of Legislative Relations
      • Amy Sharar, Communications Consultant
    • Dimmer and MacLeod welcomed attendees, introduced themselves, and said they were there to hear feedback from the community to “help guide us in this work, in this cannabis industry” (audio - 6m)
      • Dimmer elaborated that the work of their office began when Seattle officials noticed “unintended impacts around communities of color” and the 502 market. Seattle had been developing a racial equity toolkit for cannabis, similar to those the City had developed for other businesses, nearly two years earlier in June 2018 “to see what we could do to make some corrections there.” Dimmer added that “nine or ten people” had been working regularly on the cannabis-specific toolkit, led by MacLeod and himself. In her remarks, Young called this the “Equity in Marijuana Business Licensing Project.”
      • Dimmer said his office had reached out to various organizations and had hosted “eight or nine stakeholder engagements” in advance of the forum, “and we’ll probably have some more.” He stated the City had a habit of making policies “and then sharing that with the community” but was actively trying to “include the community [in policymaking] before this impacts, so that we’re doing right by you.” Dimmer said the forum’s intent was to “use this space and this time with the folks that we have here to make sure that we guide this conversation around those things, how we can do better as a city to serve you as a community” and would be better “equipped to impact racial inequities” through collaborative work “with black and brown communities” in Seattle.
      • Dimmer noted that the event took place on land of the indigenous Coastal Salish peoples and thanked the “caretakers of this land, who are still here.” He further acknowledged the “businesses that were harmed, the communities that were harmed, and also thank the city officials that are in the room” as panelists.
      • Dimmer told attendees to be mindful of how they engaged with panelists and each other and listed tenets of a “community agreement” on decorum for the forum:
        • “Listen actively”
        • “Seek to understand”
        • Treat “every voice as important”
        • “Speak from your own experience”
      • Dimmer asked if anyone wished to propose additional guidelines and hearing none, he then asked attendees to approve the community agreement and received no objection. He said that staff would be “taking all this feedback that we hear'' going so far as to ask whether attendees “want a social equity program here.” The feedback would be released ahead of enacting any equity program.
      • Dimmer reported that staff had reviewed social equity policies in other legal cannabis states, similar to a research document prepared by WSLCB in 2019. Beyond cannabis industry equity, he called for opinions on convictions and expungement, support for disadvantaged populations “and whatever else the community says that we need, we need to hear that from you.”
    • Young spoke to FAS’s general equity efforts, their longer term impacts, and how the policies could be adapted for legal cannabis. Saying that the division’s Equity and Policy Director position was a new effort by the Office for Civil Rights to weigh equity “in all that we do.” The office also oversaw Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), the city’s current equity toolkits, and ensured divisions of FAS were addressing “many of the systemic racial barriers that exist.” Young said city officials understood that “as the cannabis industry grows it is our civic duty as public servants to address the long term impacts” from prior enforcement of cannabis prohibition on “African Americans and other minorities” (audio - 2m).
    • Wheeler explained that RSJI’s goal was to “undo institutional racism and ensure that racism is not an indicator of success” in city agencies and the community generally. The Office for Civil Rights was participating in FAS’s equity work, she said, noting that she considered herself an “anti-racist educator.” Wheeler said there were “a couple reasons” RSJI centered race when framing the development of public policy, mainly that “no one's willing to talk about race” with the topic being taken “off the table for other ‘-isms’ such as gender, or ability, or heterosexism.” Racism, like other prejudices, was “tied to a base of power,” she commented, and if RSJI succeeded in making “race a part of this conversation at the jump we could address all of the other ‘-isms’ because they all stem from the same root of power.” Another reason to center race at the start of conversations was because “within every other issue that we talk about” including homelessness and pay equity “race is a salient factor” making race an “intersectional” issue that allowed for consideration of other biases and social conditions. She concluded by saying part of her job was to help Seattle’s government “begin with a standard that we often push away from” (audio - 3m).
    • MacLeod thanked those who had been engaged with FAS’s cannabis equity work which included state agencies and other cities seeking to address the issue. She introduced the first question and comment session for individuals to give feedback to the FAS project leaders (audio - 12m).
      • MacLeod called attention to the Community Alert on Legalized Marijuana from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) saying she’d been made aware of “the impact that [legal cannabis use] could potentially have on an individual.” She said Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) contacted her with concerns that the ILRC flyer didn’t convey that “admitting to having used cannabis could actually affect your status as an immigrant.” MacLeod urged those with questions around cannabis use and immigration status to speak to an immigration attorney about their situation ahead of any involvement in a cannabis business.
      • MacLeod said that preceding FAS’s equity project the city had worked with licensed cannabis businesses and medical dispensaries from 2013 to 2016. During that time she reported that city officials had seen that cannabis business “ownership had changed dramatically” leading to a “dearth of people of color operating our businesses here.”
      • Next, Seattle officials noticed other states legalizing cannabis, such as Illinois, were purposefully building social equity policies into their laws “from the start” after finding that “different cultures, different races were not represented in the industry.” However, MacLeod said that all the programs they’d seen in other states “didn’t come online until January one of this year” and that “none of them had found success” so clearly as to be a model for Washington. She felt Seattle was investing more time identifying how to best define and identify equity applicants as well as getting input on “what type of support” they’re likely to need “not just to succeed in getting the application submitted.”
      • MacLeod explained that staff reached out to learn if Seattle’s medical dispensaries had successfully transitioned to being licensed by WSLCB as well as “what was their experience like going through the licensing process.” For dispensaries that hadn’t gotten a 502 license, she said that staff asked if they’d be willing to re-apply, “and it was actually very unfortunate, most of them said no. They felt the experience was so difficult and so cumbersome” that it wasn’t worth applying again.
      • MacLeod went through the types of stakeholders FAS had engaged up to that point, adding that the list “had grown and grown.” She promised that comments collected by staff during the forum would be posted to FAS’s website and sent out to attendees who’d given their email address and observed that there were “lots of people in this industry that want to see [licensee demographics] change” and would be “willing to mentor” new businesses.
      • The other dataset MacLeod and Dimmer’s team reviewed while developing a survey and analysis on cannabis equity came from Seattle Municipal Courts “from 1998 through July of 2019.” The information helped them identify the most common Seattle ZIP codes “of individuals arrested or charged” for a cannabis “violation.”
        • 98118, Brighton/Dunlap
        • 98122, Central District/Madrona
        • 98101, Downtown Seattle
        • 98105, University District/Laurelhurst
        • 98144, Beacon Hill/Mount Baker
        • 98178, Skyway/Lakeridge
        • MacLeod reported that “after legalization, 9814[4], the arrests and charges had increased for [residents of] that neighborhood” and decreased for 98118 and 98122. She noted this lead to “whole new areas” bearing the brunt of cannabis enforcement. 
      • MacLeod also credited WSLCB for sharing retail ownership data from 2018 with FAS that revealed Seattle had “about 45 stores open” and that “at that time the makeup of the---self identified by the applicant with majority ownership---was 88% of the owners of 42 stores were owned by people who identified primarily as ‘white’ on their applications.” She said that no retailers had identified as ‘black’ at the time, with the remaining store owners identifying as Asian, Hispanic, or mixed race. MacLeod explained that this constituted a “problem” as the demographics were “not reflective of the population in our city.”
  • A first round of questions for the City’s staff led to discussions of Portland’s equity program and HB 2870, active legislation in Washington aimed at developing a statewide equity program.
    • Dimmer offered some additional legislative background, telling the audience that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes (who attended the first part of the forum) had stopped recommending low level cannabis possession cases be prosecuted in 2010, ahead of I-502’s legalization of the cannabis market (audio - 3m).
      • In 2018, Holmes and Mayor Jenny Durkan went to court to secure a motion to dismiss cannabis possession charges the city had made from 1996 to 2010.
      • In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee announced the Marijuana Justice Initiative, a special pardon program for cannabis misdemeanors. In addition, a law was passed last May allowing for easier vacating of multiple cannabis misdemeanors.
    • Dimmer said that he and MacLeod would take questions for several minutes on the Equity in Marijuana Business Licensing Project. Before taking questions, He remarked that staff also cared about “sustainability” of new businesses rather than have the city “just hand out at license, check a box to say that we did that.”
    • Brionne Corbray, Former owner of G.A.M.E. Collective (audio - 3m)
      • Corbray said that Durkan, in her former role as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, “worked with the State to basically run us out of business” with threats of huge fines and prison time. He continued, telling everyone that he had yet to get an “apology from Jenny Durkan, who’s now mayor” or the City and felt that Durkan was someone who “caused these problems.” Corbray’s view was that a clear apology was needed from Durkan and others “if this social equity program is going to work.” Dimmer promised to take this comments back to other city officials, saying he couldn’t “speak for the Mayor and I can’t speak for that time” but perceived the responsibilities of a city mayor and federal prosecutor to be very different. Nonetheless, he promised that their team did have “the full support of the Mayor’s office.”
    • Franklin, who offered no last name, spoke on behalf of Fresh Start Professional Services (audio - 3m)
      • Franklin inquired about the reliability of the self-reported demographics of retail ownership the city was using and wanted to know how much revenue from cannabis sales “that’s going to the state and to the city is actually coming back to the community to help us educate and deal with the criminal justice problem that’s coming out of the usage of marijuana.” Dimmer said his focus was on the “unintended consequences” FAS had identified and stated that the plan would be put before city officials with the expectation that they would adequately fund aspects of the program including the consequences of incarceration. 
    • Adam Powers, Black Cannabis Commission (BCC) Board Member (audio - 1m).
      • “On that aspect of data-driven decisions,” Powers asked if FAS could create visual representations to foster “data-driven decisions as a community and actually see these numbers.” MacLeod said the city didn’t have the software capability for that, but “we can certainly try.” 
    • Mary Jane Houston (audio - 3m).
      • Houston questioned which communities the city planned to help, saying she lived “right across the street” from 98122 and that “there’s very few left of the African American community there.” Though she was interested in a cannabis license, she remained concerned about the bureaucracy. Houston mentioned Operation Weed and Seed, a 1990s anti-crime partnership between Seattle and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that she saw as contributing to significant damage from disparate enforcement and punishments. She said some communities would never be revitalized, “so where are the communities you’re talking about?” Houston also wondered about whether businesses would get grants, or business loans they’d be expected to repay. Dimmer said FAS had recognized the significant start-up costs and had been “partnering with some financial institutions to help make that happen.”
        • Read a 1999 DOJ Office of Justice Programs report on Operation Weed and Seed that found, in part, “Police within Seattle report receiving numerous inquiries from police in incorporated and unincorporated areas (Kent, Renton, Tukwila) regarding sudden increases in drug trafficking following the implementation of the “reverse stings” within Seattle. Although drug dealing goes on in the Weed and Seed area, most of the buyers—police argue—are local drug users rather than persons migrating through the area solely to buy drugs.”
    • Paula Sardinas (audio - 1m).
      • Sardinas said that in addition to her role as a CAA Commissioner, she’d represented “21 different stakeholder groups representing probably close to 300,000 Washingtonians that lack of social equity has impacted.” Saying she took the “holistic approach,” Sardinas added that she was “the only person in this room that’s passed state and federal cannabis legislation in multiple states.” She highlighted Massachusetts, California, and Illinois as places that “got it wrong” on social equity, something she was determined to help Washington avoid. One suggestion she had was for the City of Seattle to be “weighing in” with greater regularity on legislation involving social equity at the state capitol. Sardinas’ question for everyone was “how can I work with you to see that the process this time works for all people?”
    • MacLeod introduced Garrett and invited her and Sardinas on stage to talk about their involvement with WSLCB’s cannabis equity program request legislation, HB 2870. Garrett began by saying she appreciated “what the City is doing” and was there to hear the public’s concerns and relay them to her fellow board members. She explained that she was familiar with the situation from her role at WSLCB, as a resident of the Seattle area, and as a local business leader with Tabor 100. Concerns over equity were a key reason for Garrett’s appointment to the board and why she’d pushed the agency to collect demographic data on retailers before focusing on industry equity over the last year. She said demographic information from license applications was complicated as race was not something the agency asked about until after applicants had passed an initial review by the agency. Nonetheless, she said the data WSLCB had found matched up with what had been reported in the media and confirmed earlier in the forum by MacLeod. Garrett had reached out to other state regulators and “personally met with folks” to see other states’ equity proposals, including Portland, ahead of WSLCB’s development of HB 2870. “Right now,” she noted, “nothing has worked in all of the states.” Garrett said HB 2870 featured “some type of technical assistance” in addition to “a task force that’s going to do quite a bit” to design the process should HB 2870 become law (audio - 7m).
    • Sardinas told the audience that she’d gotten involved in cannabis policy because her brother “did 25 years in prison as one of the, you know, sacrificial lambs of the war on drugs” leading her to focus on “sentencing disparities” in drug policy as cannabis was “not treated like we treat crack and like we treat other drugs.” She then “took on” cannabis banking by supporting passage of SB 5928 in 2018 before “working with Cory Booker and with Ron White” to pursue federal declassification of cannabis (audio - 6m).
      • Sardinas said she’d learned about HB 2870 “a couple of weeks ago” when opposing HB 2263, a proposal to permit out of state ownership of cannabis businesses in exchange for fees on investments to subsidize social equity grants. “We learned about the bill on a Sunday, I killed that bill in committee four days later,” she proudly stated. She credited Garrett for her years of work before saying “most of you have never heard about me but if there’s been a major piece of cannabis legislation this black face is the person that’s been working on it.” She claimed a key role in lobbying the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to pass a resolution calling for federal cannabis descheduling.
      • Elaborating on the many revisions to HB 2870, Sardinas pointed to her testimony during the bill’s initial policy committee hearing which featured a “strong rebuke” of WSLCB’s drafted legislation (audio – 3m). She had called for revisions around how licenses were issued, how impacted communities were involved, and how many licenses would be available. Different drafts considered by House policy and fiscal committees culminated in an engrossed second substitute. A new striking amendment, unavailable at publication time, would be considered during a public hearing in the Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee (WA Senate LBRC) on February 25th. “Based on some of the comments I’ve heard here,” Sardinas added, the newest version “probably won't be the last iteration of the bill.”
      • After talking with officials in Massachusetts, Illinois, and California, she was convinced that “they’re all doing it wrong” by attempting to “piecemeal social equity by carving out large urban areas and saying some folks get this, some folks get that.” Sardinas advocated for a statewide approach that looks “at the war on drugs that began with [President Ronald] Reagan in 1988” and “overlay those numbers of disparate impact” on communities, some which had already been gentrified by 2020 “and don’t look like they did in 2010 when black folks were getting arrested.” All of this involved both significant analysis of where stores were and where they could be placed to be profitable, and significant investment by local governments to support minority owned business development. HB 2870 was “a first step in what might be a three or four step process” but Sardinas expressed confidence it would become “one of the best pieces of social equity language in the country” and that she could return to other states with a message of “in Washington, this is how you do it right.” She concluded by promising all those in attendance “I hear you.”
    • Dimmer introduced Lee, who apologized for arriving late, as a person who could better outline how Seattle was considering funding a potential social equity program. Lee said that before his current position with Seattle’s government he’d been “Director of Economic Development for the City of Portland” overseeing their “cutting edge” city-led equity effort which had been created by a municipal ballot measure in 2016. Lee explained the measure created a 3% cannabis tax that raised roughly $2 million annually and was broadly supported by voters. Once money had been raised via the ballot measure, Portland surveyed the public on how it should be applied, finding “that the public wanted us to spend money on is actually dealing with criminal records, expungement” as many hadn’t been able to “break the cycle of poverty” due to having an arrest record. The city put a large amount of money towards people “having their record cleaned” with the remainder going towards traditional economic development policies. Lee was doubtful that a similarly worded measure would be effective in Seattle as “the Washington state constitution is uniquely different” and it wouldn’t be legal for Lee’s municipal department to “actually fund small businesses, directly providing grants” as was possible in Oregon (audio - 6m).
    • Garrett returned to HB 2870 to point out three more components of the bill she’d wanted to mention (audio - 3m).
      • The bill aimed to assist “individuals most impacted by marijuana prohibition and many of whom may not have applied at all due to the criminal history and due to lack of access to capital.”
      • The legislation proposed a program “in which a limited number of existing retail licenses would be made available within the social equity focus” in addition to access to “technical assistance” grants for entrepreneurs. The qualifications for an equity license would be defined as “neighborhoods with high poverty, high unemployment, and high rate of marijuana prohibition enforcement.”
      • The bill would create a task force with “two important elements, first, it will have the LCB structure the initial program created by the bill.” Secondly, the task force would advise the Governor and lawmakers on future changes “to strengthen and enhance the program.”
  • A second round of questions and comments touched on a variety of concerns including business financing, ownership models, clearing criminal records, and potential legal challenges. 
    • Adam Powers (audio - 1m).
      • “It seems like the way you want to make a difference is with data,” Powers suggested. He felt that “to make this equitable we need to make sure that the organization that’s going out to get that data” was also minority owned. When the city was “writing those contracts and checks, we’re making it to organizations” that were themselves reflective of the community.
    • Matthew Wilson, social worker (audio - 2m).
    • Arsenio Bell, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (audio - 3m).
      • Bell asked about the possibility of legal challenges against any equity program as “the war on drugs was implemented at a race-based level.” He echoed earlier comments asking how the City planned to weigh gentrification of neighborhoods when determining equity. Sardinas replied that HB 2870 followed “strict constructs” which kept them from violating the 14th amendment or Washington’s Initiative 200. She said that “four different civil rights attorneys” had given her the impression that HB 2870 was “strongly defensible” at both the state and federal levels. She also noted that the proposed task force’s meetings would be public and open for community organizations to participate in the development of equity policies.
    • Hayward Evans, Washington Civil Rights Coalition (audio - 3m).
      • Evans shared a series of recommendations for the City’s equity plan. First, he said WSLCB had a responsibility “to ensure that people from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana laws are included” in Washington’s “new, legal marijuana industry.” Evans asked that applications for medical or recreational stores receive “priority review” by regulators as well as “training and technical assistance,” “equitable employment and ownership” options and program information available in multiple languages. His final recommendation was for a “citizen review committee, the [task force] would appoint residents in those impacted areas who will make decisions as to how that money is spent and the percentage of the money” taxed by a jurisdiction's retailers to be “reinvested in those communities that have been impacted.”
    • Maya (audio - 2m).
    • Aaron Bossett, BCC (audio - 1m).
      • Bossett asked for more specifics from city officials on the “roll out date” for an equity plan and whether Seattle was open to looking “at different ownership models” such as employee or community owned licenses. “If one person in here got an ownership license, we all work for that one person, that’s not social equity.” MacLeod reiterated that as the policy was still under development a roll out date had yet to be set but that different ownership models including employee owned were “definitely on the table for consideration as we move this topic forward.” 
    • Wheeler spoke up to thank those participants who didn’t automatically trust the policy making process as “you’re what keeps us honest.” She noted that RSJI might be “the least favorite department of the City” as “we ask the hard questions.” To those concerned about the quality of the data, she said the Racial Equity toolkits required thorough history and accounting for when “practices have been harmful to black and brown communities. Not just geographically, but historically.” Wheeler stressed that the data used by the City “definitely does go through a framework to contextualize the data, it's not just going to be numbers” (audio - 2m).
    • John Novak, 420leaks (audio - 4m).
    • Anthony Hull, medical cannabis grower (audio - 6m).
    • Sami Saad, 12Green, LLC (audio - 5m).
      • Initially a medical cannabis grower, Saad said one of his goals was to “take money into the community” in contrast to many whom he felt were trying to join the industry to make money for themselves. When he applied for a cannabis license, Saad said he hadn’t been “treated equally” by WSLCB staff, whom he claimed instructed him to withdraw his application. Saad explained, “I’m Muslim. I’m black. So, I’m the only one representing the Muslim comminity,” adding that he was among “the first one to have this taken away from me.” 
    • Rick Love, BCC (audio - 2m).
    • Brandon Hamilton, WAM Oil CEO (audio - 3m).
      • Hamilton called cannabis the “hardest legal business in the United States right now” and called legislative changes “the easiest part” of maintaining a successful business. The key, he said, was to “go out and raise capital” as any equity program would only cover “minimal administrative costs and attorneys fees, probably.” He suggested prospective licensees learn “how to raise money” in addition to “how to pitch your business.” Sardinas responded to Hamilton’s remarks by saying she was someone who “worked in banking, who’s worked for Wells Fargo, who’s worked for Goldman Sachs, who represented 90 credit unions protecting $60 billion in assets. With no disrespect to you, I really don’t need someone that doesn’t look like my community telling me about money.” She promised that “black millionaires in the state of Washington” were ready and willing to invest. “Money was not the barrier for these licenses,” Sardinas said, as once someone had a license “you won’t need to look for the money; the money will look for you.”
    • Michelle Katherine, University of Washington (UW) student (audio - 2m)
      • Katherine mentioned the money that had “literally been taken out of communities of color disproportionately because of cannabis prohibition.” Aside from expunging criminal records, Katherine wanted to know what would happen to the fines and fees assessed from cannabis arrests. Would individuals have to pay court costs to qualify for clearing their record or the “interest rates that have been charged of people?” Dimmer replied that Seattle hadn’t addressed that and it was something FAS “could look into.”

Engagement Options


Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144, USA

Doors open at 9:45 a.m.

To request an interpreter or childcare for the meeting, please contact Cherie MacLeod at by Feb. 17.