Council Committee Passes Streamlined Package of Cannabis Social Equity Bills

Black Seattleites have been disproportionately prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses, including in recent years.

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the city council’s finance committee approved several bills by Mayor Bruce Harrell aimed at improving access to the cannabis industry for Black Seattle residents and others “disproportionately harmed by the federal war on drugs,” including “social equity licenses” intended to lower barriers to entry for those historically excluded from the legal pot industry, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white men.

The new licenses would go to businesses whose owners have lived in “disproportionately affected” areas or who have previously been convicted, or have family members convicted, of a drug-related crime.

The city cannot create new state cannabis licenses, which are issued (and limited) by the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Commission, but it can set standards and fees for cannabis businesses operating in the city. The new local licenses would work in tandem with upcoming LCB rules that will prioritize cannabis license applicants who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the past; Seattle is expected to obtain two new cannabis licenses after the LCB issues its decision.

The council also passed legislation that would require new licensees who buy existing cannabis businesses to retain existing workers for at least 90 days and preferably hire former employees for at least six months.

Tuesday’s biggest debate involved several amendments to a third bill that, among other intention-setting provisions, mandates a future “cannabis needs assessment” to “provide demographic information about currently employed workers.” in the cannabis industry in Seattle; determine the highest training needs of workers wishing to advance in the cannabis industry and become owners; and include recommendations on whether and how to fund such training,” according to a memo from central council staff.

The legislation also proposes an advisory committee made up of “workers, industry and community members affected by the federal war on drugs” to review this assessment and recommend future policies to the council.

Initially, Mosqueda named the UFCW training program in a amendment outlining “the type of organization that should conduct the cannabis needs assessment,” but a later version of that amendment, which passed Wednesday despite opposition from Nelson and Pedersen, said the assessment should be conducted by an unspecified non-profit organization “with expertise in the roles and functions of jobs within the cannabis industry.

Council members Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson voted against the bill, arguing it was designed to give the needs assessment contract to United Food and Commercial Workers 3000 (formerly Local 21) which has lobbied the board on this issue. “I am ask for a honest and transparent Needs Evaluation at be conducted, no a which piles up the platform for a particular interest [group]”Nelson said.

Initially, Mosqueda named the UFCW training program in a amendment outlining “the type of organization that should conduct the cannabis needs assessment,” but a later version of that amendment, which passed Wednesday despite opposition from Nelson and Pedersen, said the assessment should be conducted by an unspecified non-profit organization “with expertise in the roles and functions of jobs within the cannabis industry. The needs assessment and task force work may lead to future proposals, such as training requirements for workers in cannabis sales, production and processing jobs.

Originally, the UFCW suggested a new “cannabis equity tax” which the union said would raise $5 million a year, primarily for “workforce development and training.” of work”. Earlier this year, a UFCW representative told PubliCola they hoped to win the contract to do this training work, which would include medical training for budtenders who “act as de facto pharmacists.”

The UFCW-backed proposal, which Mosqueda’s committee discussed at length earlier this year, would have been more prescriptive on hiring, requiring all cannabis companies to make a “good faith effort” to ensure that half of their workers currently lived in distressed zip codes and required that at least 10% of employees at each company had a history of cannabis arrest or conviction, or had an immediate family member who met these criteria. This plan was never part of a formal proposal, but it has informed the ongoing debate about what the city should do to promote cannabis equity.

Although the series of bills from Harrell’s office represented a dramatic step back from those proposals, representatives of the existing cannabis industry expressed concerns in a letter to committee members last week. Among them: what if a company that processes cannabis into one type of product sells its license to another type of processor, but must retain all of its employees for six months under the new law? “Regulations that impact hiring must respect the individual who is needed and qualified for a job, not a one-size-fits-all approach,” the Washington Cannabusiness Association wrote.

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