Mayor Harrell introduces bills to improve equity in cannabis industry

A new proposal by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell aims at making the cannabis industry an even playing field for minorities.  

He submitted three new legislations before the City Council to improve social equity.  

One of the proposed bills would make it easier for someone, a minority, to own a cannabis shop

There are some criteria, according to the proposal the owner must live in a disproportional area, including, a high poverty rate, a large number of people using income-based state or federal programs, a high rate of unemployment and a high rate of cannabis-related arrests, convictions or incarcerations.  

Within the last decade, marijuana has gone from being a taboo substance to a profitable product available to thousands.  

Shops have popped up and opened creating jobs. 

However, those in the industry say there’s still inequality within the market. 

Possible relief in sight for pot shop owners to operate as cashless businesses

A new bill promises relief for pot shop business owners as they propose to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, which would allow the shops to use cashless payments like debit and credit cards. Pot shops are easy targets for robberies because current law allows them to operate as cash-only businesses. 

Executive Director of the Craft Cannabis Coalition, Adan Espino, says over the last year member representation has changed within the businesses and producers they represent. 

"I'm not going to hide it, anyone who knows will know the industry is very white," Espino Jr. said. 

One of the biggest changes, increasing diversity from 5% to about 40% including Middle Eastern, Black, Brown and Women, according to Espino Jr.  

Minorities Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda are working to help by improving social equity in the cannabis industry. 

"To share the wealth in this industry and especially to look at how the funds that were being recouped in the cannabis industry could be shared not just with folks who are notably from the white community but with the folks of color who were disproportionately impacted by the harms caused by the war on drugs," Councilmember Mosqueda said. 

Mayor Harrell’s office says they recognize the disproportionality the war on drugs has on the black community and the loss of black wealth and black business.  

"This suite of legislation does not undo that harm, but it is a steppingstone in the right direction," Brianna Thomas, with the Mayor’s office, said. 

Budtenders like Zion spoke in favor of the proposal during the meeting saying, "I'm glad that we can count on the City to pursue funds from the state and federal government for cannabis equity work because that's very important that we get funds to get the work done." 

Others like Peter who oppose part of the legislation say they were not included in the discussion. 

"If you're going to say equity, you're going to talk about equity for people here in the state of Washington, the black and brown community, you should come to us and talk to us about any type of policy like this," he said. "This seems to be another attempt at a black face on a white agenda." 

City council discussed the legislation Thursday which would give an advantage to those who have been convicted of a cannabis offense, a drug offense, or is related to someone who has one of those offenses on their record. 

"Ideally, as long as it's nonviolent, then that is the community that we should be targeting," Espino Jr. Said. "We should be helping those that are wanting to turn their life around and say, ‘hey, you know, I want to do this legitimately, I want to do this legally.’" 

However, the question of legitimacy and safe arises given the broad spectrum of ‘drug offenses’ used in the proposal. 

Espino Jr. says there is no fear or concern for illegal sales. 

"I wouldn't say so necessarily, and I understand the concern for that," Espino Jr. said. "I will openly say to that is always been a concern with business owners in this industry to make sure that we don't go into drug war 2.0." 

Fox 13 reached out to several pot shop owners who off camera said they said they’re concerned for several reasons mainly underage selling, and a negative image for the entire industry.  

City legislation could be passed as soon as September 28.