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More States Allocating Cannabis Tax Revenue For Social Equity

Advocates ask: Is it enough?

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Add Washington to the list of states allocating hundreds of millions in cannabis tax revenues to people who’ve been most affected by the war on drugs.

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In a supplemental budget plan released in December, Gov. Jay Inslee wants to see $125 million annually go to communities that face social and economic disparities due to, among other things, penalties for drug sales. Designated funds will go directly to communities hit the hardest, especially for people of color.

According to Crosscut, the community reinvestment plan will focus on violence prevention, reentry services for formerly incarcerated people, giving legal aid to expunge records, and develop capital for home and business loans.

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

RELATED: New York Hemp Farmers Promoting Equity Can Now Grow Weed

More states for social equity

Washington, which legalized marijuana in 2012, is just one of many earmarking funds for social equity programs. With more states legalizing cannabis, it’s become a priority to make the industry more equitable and right the wrongs left by the war on drugs.

In New York, which legalized adult recreational use in 2021, 40 percent of tax revenue from cannabis sales will go to minority communities that had a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests. The goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive industry by mandating that a certain percentage of license holders and employees represent people from communities of color, along with underrepresented groups like women and veterans. 

In Illinois, millions of tax revenue dollars have gone to funding restorative justice grants that help civil legal aid, economic development, violence prevention, reentry, and youth development.

California designated $15 million for social equity programs. But now with new planned cuts to cannabis taxes, programs that benefit low-income youths could be affected.

RELATED: The Massachusetts Marijuana Arrest Expungement Is Called a "Failure"

It’s a start, say advocates, but more is needed

While mostly seen as a positive move, the allocation in Washington is half of what was initially proposed. It’s still a good start, say advocates like Jim Buchanan, president of the Washington State African American Cannabis Association. 

“$125 million is $125 million a year more than what we had before,” he told Crosscut.

And it’s needed. The war on drugs as a policy may be in the past, but drug arrests are still high, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust

Marijuana Moment reports that marijuana arrests have declined, but more have been made over methamphetamine, which has white people accounting for a more significant portion of those enforcement actions. Disparities continue, however. The Pew center said that black people “made up 12 percent of the U.S. adult population but more than twice that share of adult drug arrests in 2019.”