SEATTLE — An independent investigation found a Washington state representative took steps behind the scene to silence BIPOC business owners.
Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, faces allegations that she derailed the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force.
The findings come after a workplace misconduct investigation, commissioned by the state House of Representatives, was initiated after a Task Force staff member accused Morgan of abusive and bullying behavior.
Mike Asai with Black Excellence in Cannabis has been keeping close tabs on the Task Force since it was created in 2020 because he has a lot at stake.
"We're fighting for inclusion and we won't stop until we see proper inclusion," he said.
Asai owned one of the first medical cannabis retailers in downtown Seattle. He's been trying to get a new cannabis retail license from the state for about six years. There are currently no Black-owned dispensaries in the City of Seattle. Many have accused the Task Force of not moving quickly enough to give BIPOC entrepreneurs access to cannabis licenses.
"What you have here is illusion of inclusion," Asai said, "of thinking you have a Black representative that's for the Black community. But it's the illusion."
According to the investigation report, Morgan ordered a chat box used by the community to interact with the Task Force online to be shut down, despite pushback. Morgan considered the chat box a "distraction," according to a witness.
Asai said shutting down the chat box was "absolutely" a way to silence the community.
"It was a way for members of the public and people that were joining on the Task Force to communicate with each other," he said.
According to the report, when a staff member told Morgan that the community was losing trust in the Task Force, the representative stated she did not need to give "members of the public who were disgruntled air-time."
Complaints against Morgan also include delaying the work of the Task Force.
Former Task Force Co-Chair Paula Sardinas told KING 5 in a statement that Morgan would "constantly cancel meetings to slow down our work. This happened repeatedly."
Sardinas eventually left the Task Force and, according to the report, Morgan refused to fill the position.
KING 5 reached out to Morgan. In a statement, she called the report "misleading, "politically motivated" and "incomplete."
Morgan said she has filed an appeal.
Meanwhile, the Task Force plans to submit its final recommendations for social equity to the state Legislature in December.