Protestors at a December rally calling for more minority ownership of Washingtons weed industry.
Protestors at a November rally calling for more minority ownership of Washington's weed industry. Lester Black

A controversial bill in the state legislature that could have flooded Washington’s legal weed market with tens of millions of dollars in cash—and set aside one percent of that money for women and racial minorities—appears to be dead. The proposed law started this year’s legislative session with strong bipartisan support but the bill’s head sponsor told The Stranger Tuesday that the bill isn’t likely to move forward.

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Sen. Derek Stanford, a Democrat from Bothell, said the bill's plan to create a “social equity” program with that one percent tax needed more community support.

“No further action is planned on the bill this session,” Stanford said in an e-mail. “We have more work to do on the social equity issue, and since that is critical to the bill, we decided to take the time to keep working over the interim to develop a robust, community-supported equity program.”

Washington is one of the only states that stops out-of-state investors from owning legal weed companies, which effectively blocks millions of dollars in cash from being invested in the state’s legal weed industry. The state’s largest pot companies have long wanted this law to be changed, and this year’s attempt saw a novel approach that appeared to be gaining traction.

The state’s most powerful pot trade group, the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA), proposed that the state open the floodgates for out-of-state investment while also setting aside one percent of that new cash for low-interest loans for minorities and women. Two companion bills were simultaneously introduced by Sen. Stanford and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Democrat from Seattle. WACA said the proposed law would help repair the harm of the War on Drugs (the trade group never explained how giving white women loans would do that) and twenty different lawmakers signed onto the bill.

But WACA’s idea did not apparently receive any support from the black and brown communities that they said they were trying to help. The bill’s lack of support from minorities and small businesses was apparent during a committee hearing last Thursday, with speakers calling the bill harmful to communities of color.

Paula Sardinas, a commissioner for the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, said the bill’s attempt to enrich the largest pot businesses under the guise of social equity was “dishonest and disheartening.”

“This does not help us,” Sardinas said. “We are opposed to this legislation as it is currently written.”

Rep. Melanie Morgan, a Democrat from Parkland, questioned during Thursday’s meeting how allowing millions of dollars in investments would help minority pot businesses when minorities already make up a disproportionately small share of pot license ownership.

“I also know that we need to solve our own problems at home before we open our borders for other people to come into our state,” Morgan said.

Vicki Christophersen, WACA’s lobbyist and executive director, said during Thursday’s meeting that she hoped other social equity measures would be used in addition to her group’s strategy and that she believes the out-of-state money would largely flow to industry’s smaller companies.

“Large companies are self-financed, they have access to capital, but those who don’t are the smaller folks,” Christophersen said.

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Bethany Rondeau, the owner of the small pot company Falcanna, disagreed, telling the committee Thursday that the bill would be “the death” of small pot companies in Washington.

“We oppose this bill because it is clearly a ploy to use helping minorities and women as a front to pass a bill which would absolutely not help them,” Rondeau.

WACA was apparently not feeling strong following Thursday’s committee hearing. The trade group sent out a press release Friday morning saying they'd contacted lawmakers and asked that the bill “be withdrawn from consideration during the 2020 Legislative Session.”