City of Tacoma - City Council - Meeting
(July 14, 2020) - Summary

Council members adopted a resolution to reserve the City’s remaining two cannabis retail licenses for “social equity applicants” and ask the State for eight additional retail licenses.

Here are some observations from the Tuesday July 14th City of Tacoma City Council Meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • City of Tacoma Deputy Mayor Keith Blocker put forward---and members considered and passed---a resolution to reserve the City’s remaining two cannabis retail licenses for “social equity applicants” and to ask the State for eight additional retail licenses within city limits - also for social equity applicants.
    • City of Tacoma City Clerk Doris Sorum presented Resolution No. 40627 on “reserving the City’s unused allotted retail cannabis licenses for social equity applicants and requesting eight additional retail cannabis licenses be granted to the City, if possible, for social equity applicants from the newly formed Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Marijuana.” Deputy Mayor Blocker moved to adopt the resolution, seconded by Council Member Lilian Hunter. The Council Consideration Request was sponsored by Blocker, Mayor Victoria Woodards, and Council Member Catherine Ushka (video).
    • Blocker told the Council that the resolution would have city officials “reserve the city’s unused, allotted retail cannabis licenses for social equity applicants as defined” in HB 2870 “and request eight additional retail cannabis licenses be granted to the city, if possible, for social equity applicants from the newly formed Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Marijuana as soon as practicable.” He said that Tacoma had been allotted 16 retail locations under state law and that two locations had yet to be issued.
      • The two available licenses may be part of the 34 licenses identified by WSLCB as available for social equity applicants in HB 2870’s additional fiscal note.
    • Blocker explained that the resolution cites HB 2870’s definition of an equity applicant as “an applicant with majority ownership and control by at least one individual who has resided in a disproportionately impacted area for at least five of the preceding 10 years or has been convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense or is a family member of such an individual.” 
      • A “disproportionately impacted area” is defined under the bill as “a census tract or comparable geographic area that satisfies the following criteria, which may be further defined in rule by the board after consultation with the commission on African American affairs and other agencies and stakeholders as determined by the board:
        • (i) The area has a high poverty rate;
        • (ii) The area has a high rate of participation in income-based federal or state programs;
        • (iii) The area has a high rate of unemployment; and
        • (iv) The area has a high rate of arrest, conviction, or incarceration related to the sale, possession, use, cultivation, manufacture, or transport of marijuana.”
    • Blocker reported that “Black Americans have been underrepresented in the city’s cannabis industry, particularly in areas more impacted by the war on drugs.” He said the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs (CAAA) found that “Black American owned cannabis businesses make up only 1% of the entire statewide market.” As such, the resolution would “help correct some of the inequities in our city by reserving space for social equity applicants to enter the cannabis retail market.” Blocker thanked CAAA and Black Excellence in Cannabis (BEC) for “bringing these issues to my attention.”
    • Ushka said Blocker had been “extremely eloquent in his description and support of this resolution” and thanked him for his advocacy while promising her support. Council Member Kristina Walker was similarly grateful to Blocker for exposing “stark inequities” addressed in the resolution.
    • Mayor Woodards backed the resolution, saying she was “glad to sign on” to something that fit within the City’s larger conversation “about transforming institutions and processes and laws. I think this is one of the ways that we can do that.” She said that African Americans were “adversely affected on the enforcement side of cannabis” without seeing “opportunities to be on the other side” of the legal system.
    • The resolution was adopted by a unanimous vote.
  • Ideas for a resolution were proposed to Blocker by members of Black Excellence in Cannabis (BEC) and council members discussed the merits of a resolution during a study session.
    • According to a written public comment from Aaron Barfield, BEC President, the group met with Blocker on June 25th in the company of The Cannabis Alliance’s former Executive Director Kristin Baldwin. BEC presented a “proposal for a plan which would allow Tacoma to lead the way for creating an inclusive cannabis industry that allows People of Color to benefit from the economic opportunities created by legalization.” He noted African Americans were “arrested at 4 times the rate of whites for cannabis yet own less than 1% of the available licenses. White men are now licensed to sell cannabis in Black Communities and extract millions of dollars. The WSLCB’s unchecked discriminatory practices, greed, corruption and hypocrisy have led us to this shameful and inequitable place.” As Tacoma was 35% People of Color...it is one of the most greatly harmed by the exclusion and disenfranchisement of minorities. This also means that Tacoma also stands to gain the most by leading the way for minority inclusion.”
    • At a July 7th council study session, Blocker shared his Council Consideration Request which led to discussion about the lack of minority owned cannabis businesses in the city and a growing disparity in arrests (video). 
      • Blocker was supported by Woodards, Hunter, and Council Member Chris Beale. Ushka was similarly encouraging of the effort, believing that “it doesn’t just take our equity into account, it takes that concept of anti-racism and applies it in a real fashion that has real outcomes for the lives of people.
      • When she asked whether state lawmakers would approve more licenses for the City, Blocker responded that “it’s totally up to the State.” He added that WSLCB had expressed interest in “increasing and enhancing the social equity program.” He acknowledged that it may not be possible to add as many retail stores as they were requesting given “the city’s geographical area” and licensee distance restrictions. Blocker said the City would do “internal work to see where those stores are actually allowed to be.”
        • See Tacoma’s Recreational Marijuana Map which “provides the locations where I-502 (Recreational Marijuana production, processing, or retail sale) are permitted within the City of Tacoma“ and the City’s landing screen for Marijuana Business.
      • Council Member Robert Thoms said he was against Tacoma having a “pot desert” where stores weren’t allowed to operate. He was in favor of stores “all over the city...owned by people of all ilks.” Thoms called on WSLCB to explain why there hadn’t been more minority license owners approved and why disparities in arrests had increased statewide. Blocker replied that African American applicants had “not been treated fairly” by WSLCB and were “heavily policed” but claimed the agency’s licensing staff intended to update their application processes.
  • The Council received additional written public comments supporting and criticizing the resolution’s purpose.
    • Courtney Stoker told the Council she backed the resolution and was “shocked to learn NONE of the current licensees are held by Black business owners. This resolution will hopefully go a long way in righting this balance.”
    • Rachel Kunze Wilkie supported the “movement to bring equity to the cannabis industry by allowing Black-owned cannabis businesses to be granted the remaining two [retail] licenses.”
    • Heidi White opposed the resolution, pointing out that HB 2870 stated “the intent of the legislature that implementation of the social equity program authorized by this act not result in an increase in the number of marijuana retailer licenses above the limit on the number of marijuana retailer licenses in the state established by the board before January 1, 2020.” She was also unhappy that the resolution specified “Black Americans” while the bill described an “equity applicant who resides in a disproportionately impacted area not a certain ethnicity.” White felt it was “disturbing that the City would even consider putting any one ethnicity in this resolution when we have so many different ethnicities. It seems divisive when many of us are trying to be more equitable.”