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“We have a moral obligation, the governor would say, to support these communities and help them repair themselves,” said RaShelle Davis, senior policy adviser in Inslee’s office.

The fund aligns with recommendations from the Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis, which advises the Legislature and Governor on policies that level the playing field in the weed industry. The move parallels a nationwide push by state governments, including New York and Illinois, to address the legacy of the War on Drugs – which saw the criminalization of people of color, especially black Americans. , for drug offences. Advocates see the reinvestment fund as a good start to addressing inequality, but believe more can be done.

Jim Buchanan, president of the Washington State African American Cannabis Association, initially wanted to see an annual allocation of $250 million to the reinvestment fund, which would represent about half of the state’s projected cannabis tax revenue. When the governor announced funding would be cut in half, Buchanan felt it was better than nothing.

He said, “$125 million is $125 million a year more than what we had before.”

How it works

Reinvesting in Washington communities would involve withdrawing funds from the state’s dedicated marijuana account, which holds money from cannabis excise taxes, penalties, license fees and forfeitures.

Projected cannabis revenue for Washington’s 2021 to 2023 budget cycle has passed the $1 billion mark. More than half of this amount was for health care, while about a third went to the state’s general fund. Other sectors benefiting from the revenues included local governments; licenses and application; education and prevention; and research and testing.

“Now that billions of dollars are flowing into states and being generated by the legalization of cannabis, we have a responsibility to help fix these communities that were over-policed, that experienced disproportionate rates of violence,” Davis said.

The $125 million reinvestment fund would focus on four key areas: violence prevention; the establishment of reintegration services for those who were previously incarcerated; provide legal assistance to expunge records and quash convictions; and developing economic capital, for example by helping new homeowners to buy their homes and small business owners to access loans.

The state plans to develop a study that determines how grants could be targeted to communities. Until then, the state Department of Commerce is ready to distribute the money through existing programs.

“We didn’t want the department to have to sit on that money until the study was done and then the plan was done,” said Sheri Sawyer, senior policy adviser in Inslee’s office.

Until the study is complete, Davis said Washington will look to its disproportionately affected areas to identify communities to reinvest. This is a census tract or comparable area with specific characteristics, including high rates of poverty, unemployment, and cannabis-related arrests, convictions, or incarcerations.

Davis noted that the cash would be available statewide.

“But the funding would only go to communities that have had a disproportionate impact because of the war on drugs,” she said.

Addressing Inequalities in Cannabis

Racial disparities have already put Washington’s cannabis industry under the microscope.

The retailers launched their business after the state legalized weed in 2012. Some black entrepreneurs, however, found themselves unable to profit from cannabis due to the patchy enforcement of drug laws in their communities: from 2013 to 2019, for example, black people in Seattle faced disproportionate citations for cannabis-related offenses compared to the city’s white population.

Washington has worked to address inequities in its cannabis system, such as easing rules in 2021 to make the industry more accessible to people with criminal records. Lawmakers also approved a program in 2020 to redistribute nearly 40 unused cannabis retail licenses to applicants from communities facing disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws.

The state’s plan to reallocate cannabis revenue to communities affected by the war on drugs mirrors initiatives Buchanan had noticed outside of Washington.

“I saw what New York did,” he said. “And I hung on like a pit bull.”

New York State legalized recreational cannabis in 2021, reserving 40% of its cannabis tax revenue for equity initiatives. The state would, for example, automatically erase the records of those convicted of cannabis-related offenses that are no longer considered criminal and allow those who have already been convicted to participate in the new market.

It’s a beginning

Washington’s reinvestment account comes at a time when the country is reckoning with its own history of racism and unfair treatment of black Americans. Some see this project as a necessary step, but not the only one required.

“That $125 million is a down payment,” Elmer Dixon said. “It’s a small down payment on what the government owes our community.”

The money is a minor form of reparations for Dixon, who co-founded Seattle’s Black Panther Party in 1968. He feels there’s still a long way to go to atone for what he described as a “long history of action racist and brutal” against communities of color.

“It’s a drop in the ocean,” said Dixon, who believes blacks and browns, as well as Native Americans, owe billions of dollars. “But you have to start somewhere.”

The Seattle King County NAACP chapter treasurer echoed that sentiment. Darrell Powell, who is also one of the NAACP’s state conference vice presidents covering Alaska, Oregon and Washington, said he could die on a sword for more money or, alternatively , take this as a start. He said he let Inslee know that the areas where the $125 million would go were billion-dollar problems.

“I don’t expect you to solve the ills of the African American and BIPOC communities with $125 million a year,” he said. “We always push the envelope to say thank you, if you will, but that’s not enough. And this is the start. And it should have happened from the beginning.

Inslee’s Davis office knows the stipend might seem modest to those who have requested more money for the community reinvestment fund.

“We recognize that he’s not 100% meeting the community,” Davis said. “But we want to start somewhere and we made a significant investment by making $125 million.”

A dialogue about redressing the harm done to Black Americans over the centuries arose in educational circles, between state governments, and even at the national level, when a bill to study reparations for slavery emerged. in the Legislature in 2021. Some estimate the cost of reparations for Americans whose ancestors were slaves could be in the trillions.

Sawyer, one of the senior policy advisers in Inslee’s office, said most comments about the community reinvestment fund from her perspective were generally positive. Still, she understands why some are skeptical about the size of the allocation as Washington records $1 billion in cannabis revenue.

“Their perspective, and I can appreciate it, is, ‘We deserve more,'” she said. “And it’s not like we disagree with them. We’re just trying to balance this priority with all the countless other priorities that are also very good.

Legislation in progress

Washington lawmakers are advancing bills for the community reinvestment fund, with some changes.

State Senator Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, and State Representative Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, who both serve on the Cannabis Social Equity Task Force, sponsored complementary bills, House Bill 1827 and Senate Bill 5706, which align with the Governor. demand for legislation. Saldana has also sponsored a separate bill that restructures the allowance.

The legislation, SB 5796, sets dollar amounts for specific purposes — like testing cannabis-based pesticides, money for local governments and administering the Healthy Young People’s Survey. Washington State. The bill also sets aside money for areas, including a community reinvestment account, that are not tied to specific dollar amounts.

The idea is that the more money flows in, the more it goes to areas not limited by fixed allocations, including reinvestment.

“I think it’s very clear from a community perspective, $125 million is not enough,” Saldana said. “The need is much greater.”

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, broke with fellow Republicans when she voted in favor of the restructuring bill.

“It’s something that gets back to the root of what people voted for when they approved the 502 Initiative,” she said, referring to the legalization of recreational cannabis in 2012.

The senator, who has worked on cannabis legislation in the past, was the only Republican on the Labor, Trade and Tribal Affairs Committee to vote yes on SB 5796.

“There’s still a lot of hesitation on my side of the aisle about cannabis, about all the legalization,” she said, but noted that people may feel differently when it comes to act of voting on the floor. “Committee votes can give you an indicator but are not necessarily the final word.”

On SB 5706, the bill to create the community reinvestment fund, Rivers returned it without a recommendation. She said it was a way to avoid dealing a deathblow to the bill.

“When I vote without rec it means I don’t know, I have a question I need to answer before I commit in any way,” she said.

This story was first published by Crosscut.

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