Seattle mayor inks trio of bills to increase number of minority-owned pot shops

Sep 20, 2022, 6:27 PM | Updated: 6:35 pm
Mayor Bruce Harrell (Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle)
(Photo courtesy of the City of Seattle)

In an effort to address equity in the cannabis industry, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed three bills into law today to help foster a more diverse workforce while increasing support for cannabis store workers.

The first bill lays the groundwork for future cannabis-related businesses, in collaboration with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to issue licenses through a social equity framework.

While approximately two-thirds of Washington’s population is white, 85% of marijuana growing and processing businesses in the state are majority white-owned, according to reports from the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board. Black people have a majority stake in only 1% of the state’s cannabis producing and processing businesses.

“We can’t solve generations of injustice just like that, but we can try,” said Mayor Bruce Harrell before putting his signature on the various bills.

How Seattle’s mayor plans to increase the number of Black-owned pot shops

The first bill will also create a short-term cannabis advisory committee, selected in collaboration with the city council to collect input on cannabis equity and needs from workers, community members, and industry leaders.

“I think our city and our country are trying to look at an industry that has been historically used to marginalize communities,” Harrell said. “Dare I say, intentionally criminalized communities, and now with the right values and right people, how do we take that industry and advance equity advance opportunity? These policies are quite frankly a necessary step to new generations of injustice and discrimination caused by what was then called the War on Drugs left so many black communities and communities of color so far behind.”

The legislation also outlines goals to continue to work towards expunging convictions for cannabis-related crimes before 2014, as well as making significant leaps in safety improvements, capital investments, and access to banking services.

The second bill focuses on reworking the licensing system while the third bill spotlights new improvements to job protection and retention in the cannabis industry.

“We said here, in the city of Seattle, that frontline workers ought to have a voice in making sure that they can stay in place if there are changes in ownership, because they have very few protections given some of the dynamics at play. When you look at business ownership models and, on paper, who they report to, we’re making sure that when businesses transition, workers can stay in place and continue to have job security as that transition happens,” Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said at the bill signing.

While licenses are all regulated and distributed at the state level, the city says these new laws will allow it to take tangible steps to improve fairness and opportunity in the industry, both now and as additional licenses are awarded. Once the state begins to allocate social equity cannabis licenses across the state, the new laws will make sure that Seattle is best situated to enhance local equity efforts.

“We need to make sure that small businesses, especially black-owned businesses that were harmed by past public policy at the city level, are first in line to receive technical assistance and funding guidance to make sure that black-owned businesses can have, not only a foothold in Seattle’s local economy, but that it can thrive here and make sure that revenue is shared and not just held by white business owners,” said Mosqueda.

Harrell stressed there was still much work to be done on this front, including at the federal and state levels, such as Congress passing the Safe Banking Act. But he also noted there was additional work to do at the local level.

“The work still to come will highlight additional opportunities for improvement in our current system,” Harrell said. “I look forward to the recommendations that result from the Cannabis Needs Assessment.

“This work won’t be easy, but I believe together we can foster an open conversation between workers, community members and industry leaders to identify common priorities and align on efforts to advance our shared values of equity and restoration,” he added.

Labor groups, including UFCW 3000, praised the city’s actions after citing the struggles the cannabis industry faces regularly.

“We see this package of legislation as a first step on a journey to right the wrongs of a system that has harmed black and brown communities,” said Matt Edgerton, the Cannabis Division Director for UFCW 3000. “From those arrested and prosecuted who will have their convictions expunged, to the black business owners who were wrongly shut out of the legal market after voters passed I-502, and to the budtenders who every single day risk their lives going to work due to armed robberies because our federal government has failed to reform our banking system.”

UFCW 3000 is a union representing more than 50,000 members working in grocery, retail, health care, meat packing, cannabis, and other industries across Washington state, northeast Oregon, and northern Idaho.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here.

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Seattle mayor inks trio of bills to increase number of minority-owned pot shops