WA Governor Council on Health Disparities - Public Meeting
(January 3, 2022) - WA SECTF Recommendations

"The War on Drugs is a War on Us!!"

After pushback for not acting earlier, council members formally and unanimously endorsed all of the recommendations of the Washington State Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis.

Here are some observations from the Monday January 3rd Washington State Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities (WA Governor Council on Health Disparities) Public Meeting.

My top 4 takeaways:

  • The council provided staffing support for the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis (WA SECTF) and had previously been approached to offer a non-binding vote of support for the task force recommendations to the Washington State Legislature (WA Legislature), the governor’s office, and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB).
    • With members selected from state agencies, boards, commissions, and gubernatorial appointees, the council’s operating principles included a commitment “to promoting equity for all historically marginalized communities” while actively “centering racism as our primary focus.”
    • RCW 69.50.336(5), the statute establishing the WA SECTF, required initial staffing for the body to be facilitated by the WA Governor Council on Health Disparities, stipulating that this responsibility “must be transferred to the office of equity created under chapter 43.06D RCW when requested by the office of equity.”
    • Hoff mentioned the task force to council members in September 2021. The December meeting included a presentation on WA SECTF and its recommendations. Several members of the public urged the council to make a formal endorsement of the recommendations, but a vote was postponed after multiple members abstained, citing a need to review and discuss the recommendations’ impact on their agencies and the governor’s budget priorities. This left the council unable to reach a quorum necessary for a vote.
    • During their September 2021 meeting, WA SECTF members voted on the following recommendations:
    • In mid-December 2021, Governor Jay Inslee released his proposed supplemental operating budget for 2022 which featured $125 million of cannabis tax revenue annually for Community Reinvestment Grants.
      • The grants would go to “communities affected by economic and social disparities as a consequence of the historic, inequitable design and enforcement of criminal laws and penalties for illegal drug sales, possession and use. Grants will be provided in the following categories: economic development to reduce poverty in highly impacted communities, civil and criminal legal aid to vacate criminal convictions, violence prevention programs, and reentry services to facilitate the successful transition of persons formerly incarcerated in our state adult correctional or juvenile residential facilities. A portion of the funding will be used to develop a study to identify how community reinvestment grants may be targeted to communities to meet the goals established for the fund.”
      • Representative Melanie Morgan and Senator Rebecca Saldaña, legislative appointees to the task force, subsequently prefiled companion bills HB 1827 and SB 5706 on “Creating the community reinvestment account and community reinvestment program.”
  • During general public comment, a half dozen people—including a WA SECTF appointee—spoke in favor of the council backing the recommendations, arguing the task force advice to lawmakers was firmly aligned with the council’s operating principles.
    • Philip Petty, Washington State African American Cannabis Association (WSAACA) Vice President (audio - 2m)
      • Petty described his involvement with WA SECTF “from pretty much the beginning” and credited “community input” for helping shape the recommendations. He stated that the “economic equivalency, which is the equity piece,” was “pretty close,” and the “equality piece” in regards to licensing was appropriate. Petty termed the vote before the council an “opportunity for the amends process to be done” as he felt that was “overdue.” A second-generation Seattleite, he felt that the task force recommendations were evidence “things are actually changing” and asked everyone to be “in favor of the right thing” in a show of “harmony.”
    • Jim Buchanan, WSAACA President (audio - 3m)
      • Buchanan expressed support for endorsing the task force recommendations and Petty’s comments, saying he’d participated with the task force since April 2021. He praised the “historical” community reinvestment funding proposed by Inslee following a meeting he’d requested the month prior, saying community members had weighed in on “what we feel equity, equality, and economic justice is.” Following “tough conversations” with WA SECTF members, Buchanan felt the group had “moved the line in the sand tremendously” and he was proud of the resulting recommendations. While they’d proposed $250 million for community reinvestment, he was “so extremely proud” of the $125 million Inslee’s budget request proposed, saying the money could have a positive impact on disproportionately harmed communities.
      • Voicing confidence the council would “vote the right way,” Buchanan addressed how he and others got “emotional” at the previous meeting in part because “we’ve lived this,” noting civil rights protests and disturbances in Seattle’s Central District dating back to the 1960s. WA SECTF offered a chance to “make amends.” He added that the task force had spent a lot of time “on a volunteer basis” in suggesting policies that could foster social and economic equity, and urged council members to “follow that pace” to endorse the recommendations.
    • Joana Ramos, Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WSCLA, audio - 3m)
    • Raft Hollingsworth, Hollingsworth Cannabis Company Co-Owner and WA SECTF appointee who co-led the Technical Assistance and Mentorship Work Group (audio - 1m)
      • Hollingsworth asserted that the recommendations enjoyed “the full support of the community, [and] also the industry,” having followed a “long process” to adoption. He asked for the council’s endorsement, saying, “we look forward to working with everybody in 2022.”
    • Darrell Powell, Seattle King County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Treasurer and Vice President (audio - 4m)
      • Powell said his organization was “on the front lines of dealing with the impact of the war on drugs, the weed and seed, the ‘I can’t breathe,’ the over burden of imprisonment.” He noted that “every time we fight hard for things that we know are right, when it gets to the last stage there’s always questioning.” He decided to comment in order to continue “the fight that we have done for the last eight months to ensure that Blacks and Browns…begin to be properly compensated for all the harm that’s been done in our communities.”
      • Feeling that they’d already compromised on expectations for funding and the equity program itself, Powell read the proposed motion language and called it “a simple ‘yes,’ if you understand the impact it's had on our community.” He drew attention to the council operating principles to “embrace equity, focus on racism, prioritize social determinants of health, center community, commit to bold action, and be vigilant for unintended consequences.” Powell argued that since “everything we’re asking for is embraced in every one of these,” there should be little reason for the council to debate the motion.
    • Elmer Dixon, Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party Founding Member (audio - 2m)
      • Saying he was a “skeptical optimist,” Dixon said he’d been involved in issues of racial equity “for 50-some years” and had seen the “damage that the war on drugs have done to our communities, both Black and Brown.” Feeling that this destruction “cannot be undone by a few licenses, and a few hundred million dollars,” he found reparations for, “in particular, Black communities, Native American communities, is long overdue.” Dixon viewed equity in the cannabis sector as the “tip of the iceberg” towards helping marginalized groups.
    • Carey Anderson, First African Methodist Episcopal Church Pastor (audio - 3m)
      • Anderson told the council he supported the work of WA SECTF and their recommendations after having worked with them, finding that “there is nothing more beneficial than to provide support for the African American community to help us afford better care” and support programs. Saying he represented the “oldest black church in state” with a tradition of involvement in “the founding of the NAACP here in the Seattle area, Urban League [of Metropolitan Seattle]” and the civil rights movement, he conveyed the opinion of his congregation that the WA SECTF recommendations “really speaks to building social equity.”
      • “Doors need to be opened, gates need to be unlocked, and opportunities need to be given” in order to “strengthen our communities of color,” which Anderson said had been “devastated by the war on drugs.” Advancing the social equity program would allow communities to help themselves, he concluded, building “our communities to a place of economic wealth.”
    • Council Chair Benjamin Danielson, reflecting on public sentiment, said it added “a solemnity…to this time…a moment for us to be really taking a sense of purpose and duty as…something serious and a result of pain” rather than a “privilege of joy” (audio - 1m).
    • Additional remarks were offered in the webinar chat box.
  • Before unanimously signaling their approval, council members discussed the motion to endorse the recommendations, adding quotes to the term “War on Drugs” and considering the pervasive impacts of racism and institutional inequity.
    • Danielson called attention to the memorandum on the recommendations prepared by Hoff, noting that the governor’s budget and other components had been mentioned by prior speakers. He said “all of the heavy lifting” had been accomplished by WA SECTF appointees with staff support from the WA Governor Council on Health Disparities (audio - 4m).
      • “It’s important to acknowledge that we as a council are made up of representatives from a number of different cabinet agencies,” Danielson indicated, saying the council had the “role of aligning the governor office’s work with the many different agencies and budgetary priorities.” As the representative for Inslee’s office, he noted that he knew the governor was interested in the council’s vote “and how we are able to support what has come through in his budgetary recommendations.”
      • Danielson mentioned the proposal for $125 million of cannabis tax revenue to be annually dedicated to Community Reinvestment Grants, and the legislation to enact them, HB 1827 and SB 5706. He then said it was time for the council to consider a motion to back “the policy concepts being proposed by the task force,” reiterating their hard work in addition to the “bold and visionary recommendations.” Danielson was reluctant to “use the word ‘reparations’ lightly” because he didn’t feel the task force requests covered that word “with any due scale, but it is…a piece of a process of being reparative to communities that have been so harmed by the war on drugs.”
      • Danielson re-read the proposed motion that the council “believes that the war on drugs has resulted in significant harm to the Black community and other Communities of Color. As the entity responsible for providing staff support to the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force, the Council strongly supports the Task Force’s work and the broad policy concepts of ensuring licenses are issued to those most affected by the war on drugs, reducing barriers and supporting individuals who receive social equity retail licenses to foster success, and reinvesting cannabis tax revenue back into disproportionately impacted communities.”
    • Jan Marie Ward, representing the American Indian Health Commission of Washington State, moved to adopt the motion, which was seconded by Greg Williamson, Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (WA DCYF) Director of the Office of Youth Engagement (audio - 1m).
    • Rian Sallee, Washington State Department of Ecology Vancouver Field Office Director, wondered whether “war on drugs” should be quoted or capitalized since “folks not of the era might not understand the sort of historical, political context of the phrase.” Danielson termed the change a “friendly amendment” with members Stephen Kutz from the Washington State Board of Health (SBOH) and Sara Franklin-Phillips from the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs (CAAA) encouraging the clarification. With no opposition to the concept, the group voted to add quotes around the term, which Danielson described as being done “in order to allow people to understand the context from which that statement derives” (audio - 2m).
    • Vice Chair Victor Rodriguez commented that he was on the council as a “community representative” and was grateful to those in the community who had participated in the work of the social equity task force as “that allows councils like this to even…to exist.” He felt the work of WA SECTF “too often is not elevated” but would lead to a “personal benefit to me and my family” (audio - 4m).
      • Rodriguez talked about being a father “of three kids,” and how his four year old son had learned about Martin Luthar King Junior in preschool and asked him “am I going to experience racism?” Though prejudice was something he wished he could always shield his children from, “I knew that I had to say ‘yes, you are, you are going to face that.’” Not knowing how else to respond to something as irrational as racism, where “for hundreds of years our humanity gets attacked over and over and over,” Rodriguez told his son he “comes from a long line of survivors and warriors, and that his family, we’re dedicated our lives to protecting our family and our community.” 
      • Feeling that “life itself is on the side of the work that we’re doing,” he again thanked those who had been involved with WA SECTF as it was subject matter that was “personal, and it is emotional.” He specifically offered his gratitude for those involved in the “ongoing advocacy” on cannabis equity, and to Powell for “reminding us of those principles…we should have done that at the last meeting.” Glad that community members were helping the council “be better,” Rodriguez also lauded the work of Danielson in leading the body before calling on the group to endorse the WA SECTF recommendations.
    • The recommendations were endorsed unanimously with no abstentions (audio - 1m).
  • Council members offered closing thoughts on equity before praising the dedication of Christy Curwick Hoff, who would be leaving her post with the council after 15 years.
    • Danielson remarked on the unified opinion of people with “dual roles of working to speak up for, stand up for, issues of equity, social justice, ending disparities, addressing racism, and who also carry the roles of functioning within the state governance.” He reiterated their unanimous support for the work of the WA SECTF appointees which would continue until June of 2023. Danielson then said that this was a chance to have values not just in written principles but to “make sure that we live into those values.” The task force work would continue, he noted, and he remained grateful for the opportunity to “[remind] ourselves of who we are,” and hopeful this experience would lead to doing more “with even greater strength” (audio - 3m).
    • Kutz saw the vote as a “rare” chance to “make a statement that…has maybe some immediate impact.” He then thanked Hoff for her service, saying “I’m going to miss her a lot” (audio - 1m)
    • Similarly grateful for “her many years of service to this council,” Rodriguez wished Hoff the best in the “next chapter” of her career (audio - 1m).
    • Ward shared her “deep appreciation for Hoff,” finding it was “hard to imagine” the council without her “incredible brilliance.” She thanked Hoff, optimistic she’d find “some time to decompress and take care of yourself, as you have been taking care of all of us” (audio - 1m).
    • Philips called Hoff “unwavering in her commitment” and “even keeled,” appreciating her ability to “calm the waters and soothe the soul in so many ways.” She hoped to encounter Hoff on “the next adventure” (audio - 1m).
    • Nicole Johnson, representing the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) in her third meeting with the council, was also thankful for Hoff’s efforts and those who had spoken about cannabis equity. “The last meeting I walked away with a very heavy heart,” she stated, because it was the first time she’d felt conflicted between her personal and professional views on an issue. She was happy to resolve the conflict and support the recommendations. Johnson credited Hoff with helping her and remained confident “we’re going to cross paths again” (audio - 1m).
    • Williamson thanked Hoff, Danielson, and the other council members for what the group had accomplished up to that point, as well as Powell for “bringing us back to those values.” He felt that regardless of the issue, the council had been “helpful in creating the conditions for the conversations that are happening,” though they were “overdue” and the “tip of the iceberg.” While the state had a variety of useful social services and programs, “they unquestionably have negative impacts, and those negative impacts are unquestionably disproportionate, it’s an honor to be part of this conversation” which could lead to “bold action” (audio - 2m).
    • Hoff shared her satisfaction that the group was able to “arrive at this vote” given that the previous discussion on the matter had been “tough.” Saying this meeting’s discussion had been more positive and “much more hopeful,” she felt their actions with regards to the task force recommendations were a “small step, but it’s a step in the right direction” (audio - 5m).
      • Hoff believed the council could help advocate for the recommendations to “become reality” and that members would continue collaborating with Inslee’s staff, the task force, and community participants. Successfully increasing equity in the cannabis market would be “very, very meaningful,” she added.
      • While not initially familiar with the issue of cannabis social equity, Hoff commented that she felt it was “equity in action work” that showed how “harms can be redressed through policy” if policymakers prioritized “communities that have been the most harmed. This is one example of that” which could be a model for future issues, she noted.
      • Having been “honored” to serve as staff for the council for 15 years, Hoff declared that her role was “the best job in state government” and was excited to see who would take her place to share their “new perspective” with the group.
    • Danielson agreed that it would be difficult to picture the council without Hoff’s input, but was satisfied her last meeting featured community voices looking to “change the way policies happen at the state” because part of their goal was “about the real connection of community to decision making processes in governance.” While equity and disparity problems would outlast Hoff’s time with the council, Danielson reminded everyone their mission was to facilitate equitable changes but “it is not actually about us, it’s about justice, it’s about communities and the direction that they provide to us” (audio - 1m).

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