The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) voted and approved the Social Equity in Cannabis rule proposal yesterday morning, October 11. The Board’s approval will add section “570” to Washington Annotated Code Chapter 314-55.

There was hope that the public comment period would yield some meaningful alterations to section 570, but the rule remains unchanged and that’s a shame. Section 570 will become effective November 12, 2022.

Trouble in paradise

Section 570 is hardly making its way to becoming law with favorable winds and following seas. There are some remaining uncertainties about implementation of section 570 and doubts among stakeholders that it will be done efficiently. During the Board meeting this morning, the LCB said that it expects to be able to accept applications for section 570 licenses “in 2023”.

As several stakeholders at the Board meeting lamented, the absence of a concrete plan for rolling out the licensing regime after two years of working on the rule leaves much to be desired by the community hoping to take advantage of the licenses. Further, some stakeholder interest groups have had choice words for the entirety of section 570’s substantive provisions. This is all taking place in an environment in which certain stakeholders distrust the Board dating back to Washington’s I-502 adult use enactment. Many stakeholders who had been participating in the medical cannabis space feel that they had been hung out to dry by the enactment of I-502 and are concerned about the Board’s implementation of section 570 for similar reasons.

Outlook

As we wrote here several weeks ago, there are some significant issues with Section 570 that will create heartburn down the road. Without revisiting them in detail, the most problematic are:

  • the restrictions on to whom and where one can sell a section 570 license
  • anchoring the licenses to specific counties
  • scoring criteria that do not appear to effectively value the most disaffected applicants
  • a highly subjective application process in which third-party vendors act as application adjudicators

Those aspects of section 570 don’t appear to serve any legitimate purpose. Each is counterproductive to its mandate.

Given the apparent dissatisfaction of certain stakeholders with the Board, paired with the pre-existing issues between them, it seems increasingly likely that lawsuits challenging Section 570 will be filed once the application process is up and running. We will monitor the developments of the Washington Social Equity in Cannabis rule becoming final and the LCB’s progress in rolling out the licensing plan here. Stay tuned.