RaShelle Davis is a senior policy adviser in Inslees. She stated that we have a moral obligation to support these communities, and help them rebuild.
The fund parallels RecommendationsFrom the Social Equity in Cannabis Task ForceThe Advisory Board advises the Legislature, governor and other officials on policies that will level the playing field in the marijuana industry. This is a part of a national push by state governments, including New York State and Illinois, against the legacy of war on drugs that saw the criminalization, especially of Black Americans, of drug-related offenses. Advocates see the reinvestment funds as a positive step towards addressing inequities. However, they believe that there is more to be done.
Jim Buchanan, the president of Washington State African American Cannabis Association, originally wanted an annual allocation of $250 million to the reinvestment funds. This would allow for about half of the state’s projected cannabis tax revenue. Buchanan felt that it was better than nothing when the governor announced that the funding would be cut in half.
He said, $125 million is $125 million a year more than what we had before.”
How it works
Reinvesting funds in Washingtons communities would require the state to provide funds Account dedicated to marijuana, which holds money related to cannabis excise taxes.
Washington’s 2021-2023 budget cycle saw a projected cannabis revenue of more than $1 billion. The state general fund received about a third of the revenue, with more than half going to health care. Other sectors that benefited from the revenue were local governments, licensing and enforcement, education and prevention, research and testing, and licensing and enforcement.
Given the billions of dollars that are coming into states from legalization of cannabis, it is our responsibility to help those communities that were overpoliced or that experienced high levels of violence. Davis said.
The $125 million for the fund would be used to prevent violence, implement reentry services for people who were previously incarcerated, provide legal aid to expunge records or vacate convictions, and develop economic capital such as helping first-time homebuyers and small business owners get loans.
The state will conduct a study to determine the best way to target grants to communities. The state Department of Commerce will continue to distribute the money through existing programs until then.
We didn’t want the department to have to wait for the study to be completed and then to come up with a plan, stated Sheri Sawyer (a senior policy advisor in Inslees).
Davis stated that Washington will continue to look at its study until it is completed. Areas with disproportionately high impactsto identify communities for reinvestment. This is a census tract or similar area that has specific characteristics such as high poverty rates, unemployment, and cannabis-related arrests.
Davis stated that the money would be available throughout the state.
She said that the funding would only be available to communities that have had a disproportionate effect from the war on drugs.
Confronting inequities in Cannabis
Washington’s cannabis industry has been under scrutiny due to racial disparities.
After the state legalized marijuana in 2012, retailers helped get their businesses started. However, some Black entrepreneurs found it difficult to make a profit from cannabisasdisparate enforcement in their communities. For example, Black Seattle residents received disproportionate citations in 2013 and 2019 for cannabis-related offenses, compared to the city’s white population.
Washington has taken steps to address the inequities in the cannabis system. This includes relaxing rules in 2021 in order to make the industry more accessible for those with criminal records. Legislators approved a 2020 program to redistribute nearly 40 unutilized cannabis retail licenses to applicants from communities that were subject to disproportionate cannabis law enforcement.
The states plan on reallocating cannabis revenue to communities that are affected by the war on drugs mirrors efforts Buchanan had observed outside of Washington.
He said, “I saw what New York did.” I just hung on as a pit bull.
New York legalized recreational marijuana in 2021. The state also set aside 40% from its cannabis tax revenue for equity projects. For example, the state would automatically expunge criminal records for those convicted of cannabis offenses not considered criminal and allow those with previous convictions to join the new market.
It’s a start
The Washington reinvestment account is being created at a time when the country has to confront its past of racism and inequitable treatment Black Americans. While some see this project as a necessary one, it is not the only one.
Elmer Dixon explained that $125 million is a downpayment. It’s a small downpayment on the amount that the government owes to our community.
This money is a small form of reparations for Dixon who co-founded Seattle’s Black Panther Partyin 1968. He feels that there is much more to be done to atone to the long history of racist and brutal actions against communities of color.
It’s just a drop in a bucket, Dixon said. He believes that Native Americans and Black people are owed billions of money. But you have to start somewhere.
That sentiment was echoed by Darrell Powell, treasurer of the Seattle King County NAACP Chapter. Darrell Powell, who serves as the vice president for the NAACP state-area conference that covers Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, also said that he could use this money to buy more or see it as a start. He stated that he told Inslee the $125million would be used to address issues worth a billion dollars.
He said that he didn’t expect you to solve the problems of the African American or BIPOC communities with $125 million per year. We’re still pushing the envelope for you to say thank-you, if necessary, but it’s not enough. And that’s just the beginning. It should have been happening since the beginning.
Davis of Inslees office recognizes that the community reinvestment fund allocation may seem modest to some who pushed for more money.
Davis stated that we recognize that it is not meeting the needs of the community 100%. We wanted to start somewhere, so we invested $125 million.
There has been a lot of discussion about reparations for the hurt done to Black Americans over the centuries in education, among state governments and even at national level when a bill was introduced in the Legislature to study slavery reparations in 2021. Some estimates put the cost of reparations to Americans whose ancestors are slaves at trillions.
Sawyer, a senior policy adviser in Inslees office said that most of her feedback on the community investment fund has been positive. She can understand why some are skeptical about the size allocation given Washington’s cannabis revenue of over a billion.
Their perspective, which I can appreciate, is that we deserve more. It’s not that we disagree with them. We’re trying to balance the priority with all the other priorities that are equally good.
Legislation is in the works
Washington legislators are moving forward bills to establish the community reinvestment funds, with some modifications.
State Senator Rebecca Saldana, D.Seattle, as well as state Rep. Melanie Morgan D-Parkland, who serve on the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force sponsored companion bills.House Bill 1827And Senate Bill 55706These are in line with the governors request to have legislation. Saldana sponsored a separate bill to restructure the allocation.
The legislationSB 5796, tethers dollar amounts for specific objectives such as cannabis pesticide screening, money for local governments, and administration of the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey. The bill also reserves money to be used in areas that are not subject to dollar limits, such as the Community Reinvestment Account.
The idea is that more money will flow in to areas that are not restricted by fixed allocations. This includes reinvestment.
Saldana stated, “I think it’s very clear from a community perspective that $125million is not sufficient.” There is a greater need.
Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, R-La Center, broke with other Republicans when it came to voting in favor the restructuring bill.
This is the one thing that brings us back to the root cause of what the people voted when they approved Initiative 502, she stated, referring specifically to the legalization and use of recreational cannabis in 2012.
The senator, who worked oncannabis legislation previously, was the only Republican on Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee that voted yes on SB5796.
There is still a lot more uncertainty on my side of this aisle about cannabis, and about legalization in general, she said. But, she also noted that people may feel differently about voting on the floor. Although they can be a useful indicator, they are not always the final word.
Rivers referred SB 5706, the bill that would create the community investment fund, to Rivers without recommendation. She stated that this was a way to avoid giving a death blow on the bill.
She said that if I vote without rec it means I don’t know and have a question to answer before I commit.