For the first time ever, Washington state will begin accepting social equity applicants for 44 open cannabis retail licenses, the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board announced in January. The application window opens March 1 and will close at 5 p.m. March 30.
The 44 licenses designated for social equity applicants were forfeited, canceled, revoked or never issued that will be available in jurisdictions across the state and have been held in reserve by the LCB. Washington’s cannabis industry limits the number of licenses available by municipality and no new licenses have been issued since 2016.
Washington, like many of the early states to legalize, did not include social equity provisions in its legalization language. In 2020, the state created its social equity program, designed to provide licenses to individuals disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition laws.
To qualify for the social equity program, each applicant must have at least a 51% majority ownership interest, must be a person who has resided in Washington state for six months prior to the application date, and meets at least two of the following qualifications:
– The applicant has lived in a disproportionately impacted area in Washington for a minimum of five years between 1980 and 2010;
– The social equity applicant or a family member of the applicant has been arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense; or
– The social equity applicant’s household income in the year prior to submitting the application was less than the median household income within the state of Washington, which is $82,400.
The LCB in January also posted maps indicating the disproportionately affected areas of the state. In addition, the state Department of Commerce is developing a roster of mentors and facilitators to support social equity licensees. Mentors will initially provide support services to any early-stage entrepreneurs interested in starting cannabis businesses, particularly those who have been historically impacted by high poverty and enforcement of cannabis prohibitions.
— Brian Beckley