Understanding Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry

What will it take to actually put social equity first in a legal cannabis market? That’s a concern a former Massachusetts cannabis controller is seeking to find in a new research study.

While legislators have studied and acted upon various cannabis policies meant to reinvest in communities most influenced (negatively) by the war on drugs and encourage disparaged groups of people to partake in the cannabis industry, no legal cannabis state has fully achieved social equity thus far, Shaleen Title debated in the Ohio State University study unveiled last week.

But as state cannabis studies continue to grow, “we are seeing tremendous progress with regard to the involvement, inclusiveness, and support of those who have experienced disproportionate problems from cannabis prohibition,” Title, who now acts as distinguished cannabis policy physician in residence at The Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.

And there are a variety of lessons to be learned and incorporated as the cannabis legalization movement broadens.

There are a few central concerns that cannabis regulators should think about. Her study argues: How to specify social equity applicants, what type of benefits should be granted to those cannabis businesses, and how to craft cannabis licensing priorities that put disadvantaged neighborhoods first.

“The first social equity agendas were installed in 2016, and we’ve made tremendous advances inequitable cannabis guidelines since then. By administration standards, this tier of change in five years is unheard of,” Title, who is also CEO of the drug reform think tank Parabola Center and is vice-chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, informed a popular cannabis news outlet. “Particularly when you look at states like New York, you can see that changed communities are experiencing the lessons from earlier states and coming concurrently to request more concrete and informed social equity cannabis policies.”

“I hope we keep up this rate of change and that my work helps to support continued progress and even better results,” she stated.

There are a slew of elements that can go into that description, including the applicant lives in a location that’s been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition or if they or relatives have been privately impacted by cannabis criminalization. Race is also an aspect, as black and brown people have been disproportionately targeted by punitive cannabis policies with everlasting effects.

A major concern that cannabis advocates have recognized as state markets grow is that, despite countless measures to bring those who’ve experienced the most trying times under cannabis prohibition into the legal, regulated cannabis business space, those goals by and large have not been met.

She also emphasized that certain types of business owners should also be taken into review, and “only businesses controlled by and with majority ownership by people who qualify for the social equity program should be eligible for program benefits.” That means not letting businesses that are figure-headed by an affected person but controlled by other interests qualify as equity applicants.

“Social equity agendas can deliver a wide variety of business advantages including funding, technical and legal aid, enterprise incubation, and miscellaneous services,” Title’s review explained. “The schedules should take into review that constituents may be inquisitive in additional types of inclusion with the cannabis sector beyond typical ownership and design advantages to handle these various needs.”

Those who prepare as social equity applicants ought to be given access to essential capital via grants and pardonable loans, she stated. Controllers should also “facilitate appropriate zoning conditions to avoid unrealistic prices for reasonable real estate,” and incentivize co-op spaces for social equity businesses to function.

Technical aid, workforce development agendas, and fee releases for things like applications, licenses, and other various charges should also be taken into account as states create legalization laws with social equity in mind, the studies disputes.

Expect an update on social equity in the cannabis industry sooner than later. 

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