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Washington Relaxes Cannabis License Background Checks

After 9 years, Washington state officials overseeing the industry are finally chilling out about criminal records

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Being a convicted felon will no longer prevent people in the state of Washington from getting a state license to sell Cannabis. After nine years, state officials overseeing the industry are finally to chilling out a bit, reports Crosscut.

Washington requires a criminal background check for applicants who want a license to sell or grow marijuana. Under current rules, anyone with a felony or even a few misdemeanor convictions is ineligible. That changes next month, reports KOMO News.

“I think it’s great what the state is doing in terms of allowing people who have issues in the past, to be able to qualify,” said Tran Du, one of the co-owners of Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis in Seattle.

Under the new rules, felonies within the past 10 years will still trigger an in-depth examination. But a jail or prison sentence will no longer be an automatic disqualifier.

And less serious felonies won’t gum up the works under the new plan, reports Crosscut. After the change, one Class C felony on a person’s record won’t be enough to hold up their license application.

Similarly, if someone has fewer than three misdemeanor convictions in the past three years, that won’t be enough to prompt a more thorough review. Forgetting to report an old misdemeanor from juvenile court won’t count against applicants anymore, either. It doesn’t really matter, since the state is running its own criminal history check anyway.

‘We Wanted To Bring Parity’

Rep. Melanie Morgan. Morgan, Democrat from Parkland, chairs the state Social Equity on Cannabis Task Force.

And keeping people of color from being barred from the Cannabis industry is the goal, Morgan said.

“They knew this had to change,” Morgan said of the Board, reports Crosscut.

“The bottom line is bringing parity to the industry and making sure that Black and Brown people have equal access to this industry in ownership,” Morgan said.

Legislature Adopted Social Equity Program Last Year

Washington awarded just 1% of licensed marijuana growing and processing businesses to Black people, according to Board data. About 4% of Washington’s overall population is Black. Meanwhile, 81% of pot retail shops have majority white ownership, in a state where about 67% of the population is white.

The state Legislature is aware of those numbers. Hence, in 2020, Washington legislators approved a social equity program that will award 39 unused marijuana retail licenses. Applicants from communities disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement will get those licenses. The Legislature created the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force to advise how the program should work.

A study conducted by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project looked at Washington state arrests for Cannabis. That study showed African Americans and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than whites. But police arrest African Americans for Cannabis crimes at 2.9 times the rate of whites. Police arrest Latinos 1.6 times more often than whites.

Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has already approved the new rule. It takes effect Oct. 2.

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