WA SECTF - Work Group - Disproportionately Impacted Communities - Public Meeting
(February 25, 2021)

Thursday February 25, 2021 5:30 PM - 8:00 PM Observed
Seal of the State of Washington

The WA SECTF creates work groups to assist with developing recommendations. The Disproportionately Impacted Communities Work Group (WA SECTF - Work Group - Disproportionately Impacted Communities) was established to develop recommendations to the WSLCB and the Washington State Department of Commerce to help those agencies refine eligibility and prioritization criteria for issuing future social equity retail cannabis licenses and grants.


During the first work group meeting, members introduced themselves; heard staff briefings on the group’s scope, responsibilities, and timeline; and solicited public comments.

Here are some observations from the Thursday February 25th Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis Disproportionately Impacted Communities Work Group (WA SECTF - Work Group - Disproportionately Impacted Communities) public meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • In addition to several appointees from the social equity task force, work group members included individuals with public health, academic, and civil liberties backgrounds.
    • In December 2020, the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) established a work group dedicated to defining disproportionately impacted areas to inform recommendations for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) social equity retail licensing program.
    • Work Group Co-Chair Christopher Poulos (audio - 3m)
      • At publication time, Poulos was the Executive Director of the Washington Statewide Reentry Council and represented the Washington State Department of Commerce on the task force.
      • After introducing himself, Poulos posed a question to the group: “What brings you to this work. and what do you hope to add?” He reported that he was motivated by experience in the criminal justice system first as a juvenile cannabis offender and continuing “until I was about 25 years old.” Having been out of prison for “about ten years,” Poulos focused on changing policies around substance criminalization and making “sure it’s not only [White people] who are benefiting from the trade.” He added that the work group could be “really important” in facilitating cannabis market equity.
    • Work Group Co-Chair Cherie MacLeod (audio - 3m)
      • At publication time, MacLeod was the City of Seattle Strategic Advisor and Marijuana Regulatory Program Manager and represented the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) on the task force.
      • MacLeod said she’d helped the City of Seattle implement Initiative 502 in 2014. Describing herself as "half Thai and half White," MacLeod said she’d noticed that “the ownership of these businesses is not reflective of what I knew when they were medical." Legal cannabis had become “primarily a White man's business," MacLeod said, whereas former unlicensed dispensaries showed “far more diversity in ownership of the businesses.” Privileges of wealth and race meant some could "overcome the hurdles" and access financing, she explained. City officials had started “over two years ago” reviewing “racial equity in cannabis licensing,” MacLeod commented, as well as impacts of incarceration on individuals, families, and communities. She was interested in the work group because disproportionately impacted areas were “what defines the applicant and we really need to do it right.”
      • MacLeod was a lead organizer of the City of Seattle February 2020 forum on cannabis market equity. See the webpage on cannabis equity from Seattle officials, which features Municipal Court Marijuana Charges broken down by race from 1996 to 2019 and results of a community survey on the topic.
    • Yasmin Trudeau (audio - 2m)
      • At publication time, Trudeau was the Washington State Office of the Attorney General (WA OAG) Legislative Director and represented that office on the task force.
      • While WA OAG had been “assigned a role” on the committee by law, Trudeau explained that her interest in policy development stemmed from her youth when she’d first seen the “glaring and stark reality of disproportionality” in public policy. She’d been “familiar with the, the contentious nature of the legislative process that brought about this work group, so I had some context” for the group’s work but was interested to learn more about the topic while contributing her legal expertise.
    • David Mendoza (audio - 3m)
      • At publication time, Mendoza was the Progreso Board President and  represented the “Latinx community” on the task force.
      • Mendoza told the group he had experience helping the Office of the Mayor for the City of Seattle develop cannabis licensing and also had seen the disproportionality of enforcement in cannabis prohibition. Though most of his career had been centered around “economic justice and environmental justice issues,” he said his goal was “to try to address that disproportionate impact” while creating “new systems that work for a broader set of communities.” Mendoza hoped that his work expertise, familiarity communicating with diverse communities, and organizational skills would benefit the group. “People’s desire for information, there’s just too much of this work that’s been done without clarity of communication between government’s decision making and...the community impacts being felt.”
    • Sarah Ross-Viles (audio - 2m)
    • Alexes Harris (audio - 1m, presentation).
    • Michele Cadigan (audio - 1m).
    • Alison Holcomb (audio - 3m)
      • At publication time, Holcomb was the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-WA) Director of Political Strategies. She was lead author and campaign director for Initiative 502 (I-502).
      • Holcomb shared her background as a criminal defense attorney on cannabis cases before going to work for the ACLU to work “on policy to try to end the war on drugs.” In her view, the drug war “has always been a racist policy” and “treating all drug use as a crime has produced much greater harm than good.”
      • She worked with others to draft what would become I-502 in 2011, passed by voters in 2012. Holcomb said she’d been involved in the “rollout” of the Initiative “mainly back in the early stages with the development of the law and the rules afterwards.” She was open to building on “the lessons that we embedded into 502 that if you actually do finance and invest in a robust public health and education strategy and provide services that you will produce better outcomes for your communities."
      • Holcomb included that she’d been working “to see if we can decriminalize possession of drugs across the board and invest more heavily in community outreach engagements and meaningful recovery support services.”
    • Task force support staffer Elise Rasmussen checked to see whether “Lou” or Washington State Commission on African American Affairs (CAAA) Chairman Will Hausa was present (audio - 1m). Later she attempted to assess if Craig Bill, Director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs (GOIA), was in attendance (audio - 1m).
  • Task force staff reviewed the work group’s operating procedures, scope of work, and responsibilities.
    • Rasmussen went through the operating principles for WA SECTF which had been adopted by members in December 2020 (audio - 5m).
    • Next, lead staffer Christy Curwick Hoff reviewed the work group scope and responsibilities, providing remarks similar to an initial presentation on the topic given to task force members in October 2020 but including specifics about the work groups WA SECTF had established (audio - 12m, presentation).
      • Hoff discussed the background and function of the social equity task force, the WSLCB equity program, and funding for the technical assistance grant program. She mentioned HB 1443, which was recommended by WA House APP on February 22nd and passed by the Washington State House of Representatives (WA House) on March 2nd, as potentially making “some changes to all of that underlying framework.” Hoff promised staff would track the bill.
      • She then said the work group was getting “the bulk of the required responsibilities of the task force” to help ensure that “those retail licenses issued under the social equity program and the technical assistance grants actually get into the hands of communities that have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition enforcement.”
        • Hoff noted the “criteria and the definitions” used for equity applicants were currently “broad enough that folks could apply and get a license but maybe not actually be from a disproportionately impacted community.” She encouraged the work group “to tighten up those definitions and make sure that they’re really being issued in the way that they’re intended to be issued.”
        • Furthermore, Hoff advised the group to further define what constituted disproportionately impacted areas and “provide further guidance on the requirements for what goes into a social equity plan” which applicants would be required to include with other licensing documents “to help with the prioritizations.” What was expected in equity plans, and how WSLCB and Department of Commerce staff “scored” them were “all things that this work group could take on.”
        • Hoff said “the application process itself” had been criticized by prior applicants, relaying that “just applying for a license, historically, has been really cumbersome and difficult” resulting in “barriers.” She stated that these obstacles had not been “felt equally...across different populations.” The individuals a social equity program could help were “more likely to experience some of those barriers and have more difficulty with the application process itself.” Hoff added that process recommendations to WSLCB could also cover “equitable screening, review, prioritization, and selection criteria.”
      • Hoff acknowledged the other work groups addressing licensing and “technical assistance and mentorship” could have some “overlap” with the disproportionately impacted communities work group, and promised to coordinate with Rasmussen to mitigate duplicated effort.
    • While the work group meetings were public, the choice was made to not include a formal public comment period and instead gather input from citizens after addressing particular topics.
      • Julius Debro, Co-Owner of Social and Economic Equity and Diversity (SEEDS) for African Americans in the Legal Cannabis Industry, a tier 1 producer in Tacoma (audio - 11m).
        • Debro described his background as an associate dean for the UW Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP) and criminal justice chair at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), a private historically Black research university. He said he’d worked as a probation officer, a San Quentin corrections officer, and been in the military, amassing “over 30 years” of criminal justice expertise.
        • A licensed cannabis producer since 2016, Debro shared his frustration with WSLCB, pinning the meager proportion of African American retailers in the state on agency actions. He said his business had lost its cannabis license in 2018 “because of the LCB...actually without due process, they were having problems.” Debro described how his business partner, Darlene Conley, fought against the license loss and "beat the Attorney General's Office" getting the license reinstated in 2020. He commented that his business was one of “only two growers that we know of in the state of Washington that are African American...and very few distributors.”
        • He urged the work group to distinguish who would be considered a minority applicant or an existing minority owned cannabis business, and whether new retail stores would be permitted in majority-minority neighborhoods “where there are an overabundance of stores.” Debro remarked that in the Seattle Central District “we got Uncle Ike’s all over the place" lending to his skepticism that locations would be available “at a reasonable rate. It’s very difficult to find places to put marijuana stores.” Debro felt there were "major issues before you even allocate these stores" that the task force should address, pointing to former Olympia retailer A Bud and Leaf, whose owners, Anne and Jim Sulton, lost their store “because they couldn’t make any money.”
        • After putting his retirement money into the business, Debro struggled to find financing “at a reasonable rate” because when “you mention that you own a store or a farm, the prices triple.” In all, “the cost of getting a store” was the single most “critical issue” facing prospective equity applicants.
        • Debro and Conley were signatories to a letter shared by task force member Raft Hollingsworth on January 25th which called for existing licensees to qualify for grant money, something which would be allowed should HB 1443 become law.
      • Darlene Conley, Co-Owner of SEEDS for African Americans in the Legal Cannabis Industry (audio - 3m). 
        • Conley reported that deadlines set by the agency tended to be a problem because “you have to have a place before you can get your license” which sometimes led to encounters with "predatory landlords" and "discrimination in real estate.”
        • She mentioned an investor who owned multiple units of “turn key ready” production facilities who was advocating for a “co-op type of situation” for minority cannabis businesses. Conley added that competition from outside the state was increasing as brands and investors spread among legal cannabis states and/or Canada. "There's a lot of stuff going on out there that the LCB doesn't know about or hasn’t really investigated," she told the work group.
        • Conley commented on jurisdictions with bans and moratoria on cannabis businesses “benefiting from an industry that they’re banning” (audio - 1m).
      • Paul Brice, Happy Trees Owner (audio - 5m).
        • Brice explained that he had a mixed race heritage, was "pulled over 47 times by the age of 18," and had two cannabis felony convictions relating to work at a former medical dispensary. He’d had half a dozen locations vetted by WSLCB before being permitted to move his retail store to another county. Brice didn’t feel WSLCB did enough to assist him in the face of a local moratorium he viewed as discriminatory in its timing and application. The agency “needs to go to bat for” minority owned cannabis businesses, he concluded.
        • Brice participated in all task force meetings, WSLCB BIPOC engagements, and was a co-signatory to the Hollingsworth letter.
      • Zachary Fairly (audio - 3m).
        • Fairly suggested that it might be worth looking “at the tribal laws and how it’s been impacting” Native American nations with cannabis compacts.
        • He advised making license spots available that had been “dormant” in regions with bans and moratoria “by saying that they’re going to be tax-free,” by replicating tribal policies, or through permitting vertical integration among equity licensees. Fairly described this as a way to make businesses more competitive against established companies operating multiple stores and therefore more attractive to potential investors.
        • Fairly commented during the September 2020 BIPOC engagement.
  • Task force staffer Elise Rasmussen provided a timeline for completion of the work group’s tasks.
    • Rasmussen presented a draft work plan outlining responsibilities as well as how work group duties fit into the task force timeline (audio - 13m). 
      • Rasmussen said the task force would next meet “once there are substantive issues that are coming out of the work groups” that merit discussion. She added work groups included multiple task force members to ensure their recommendations were supported before task force consideration. Rasmussen suggested the full task force was unlikely to meet again “before April.”
      • Promising a “much more detailed work plan” soon, Rasmussen went over “high level tasks” to be accomplished. Between February and July the work group would look at:
        • “Creating criteria for disproportionately impacted area[s]” which Rasmussen said the work group was responsible for “tightening up” in addition to “specifying cutoffs” for qualifying factors.
        • “Creating criteria for defining who qualifies as a social equity applicant.” Rasmussen noted that HB 1443 could impact the criteria or time allowed, but the current mandate was a “really limited timeframe.” This included who would be defined as someone’s “family member,” she said.
      • A possible task for the work group included offering suggestions for evaluating how “social equity goals” were quantified such as “reducing accumulated harm,” which was so far undefined.
      • Rasmussen indicated that the work group would flesh out what should be in an applicant's social equity plan in addition to “what should be included” in the application process, and how that process could be executed as fairly as possible. She said that an “equity review” of WSLCB’s “broader licensing requirements to avoid perpetuating institutional racism” was another action the work group could weigh in on, having their input “elevated up” to the full task force.
      • Rasmussen admitted the timeline was “subject to change, these are kind of just our best guesses right now.” She explained that “now through May we’re really going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting” so that “in June and July we’re really getting through with that publishing and finalizing” of recommendations. WA SECTF meetings would be scheduled for April, May, “and possibly June” to review work group feedback and provide clarification if needed before any recommendations were finalized.
    • MacLeod mentioned that the creation of a technical assistance grant pilot program in HB 1443 had informed their planning as well as the fact that many people had been “waiting for a very long time, hence the very aggressive timeline.” Rasmussen said the bill expected the pilot program to be initiated by Commerce staff in October “and so we’re trying to have these recommendations ready well before then.”

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