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Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry: Are We On the Right Side of Wrong?

What part of our culture hasn’t the “Green Wave” touched so far? The healthcare industry is turning more of its attention to cannabis and lawmakers continue contemplating vacating or expunging the marijuana-related convictions of hundreds of thousands of Americans. As marijuana makes the leap from illegal growing operations to a multi-billion healthcare industry, many of us are addressing the issue of social equity in the cannabis industry.

Like many things, it’s both a simple and a complex question at once: If the weight of cannabis-related arrests, prosecutions, and convictions have fallen with disproportionate force on African-American, Hispanic, and other communities of color, how do we ensure that these populations take part in and benefit from the Green Wave in a fair and equitable way? Let’s review where the question currently lies and how certain states have addressed the issue.

social equity in the cannabis industry

Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry: Public Safety First?

The question of social equity in cannabis is hardly new, but its implementation has lagged behind other concerns. When Washington and Colorado lawmakers and regulators were addressing the question of legalization back in 2012, few could predict exactly what effect decriminalization would have on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Public health and safety were the primary concerns, and so the question of social equity tended to take a back seat.

Fast forward to today. As it’s becoming clear that legalization can carry significant social benefits alongside the economic ones, lawmakers are exhaling (and the rest of us are inhaling) and pondering how to include marginalized communities in the industry in a fair and equitable way. And what they’re finding is that social equity and inclusion aren’t an added expense, but quite the opposite. Instead, some studies suggest they have the potential to make the overall industry even more profitable and successful. As a recent article in Marijuana Business Daily claims, states that legalized cannabis from 2016 and included a social equity component are projected to have significantly higher sales than those that have no such component. While it’s not clear that the social-justice component is the only factor in play, many observers feel it’s a critical component.

social equity in the cannabis industry

Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry: Differing Approaches to Fairness

Across the country, cannabis activists are pressing lawmakers to put social equity in the cannabis industry front and center. By and large, they’re listening; with the exception of Maine—which is still finalizing details of its market and may still include such provisions—every state to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis use has included a social-equity component.

One sticking point is the question of criminal-record expungements. Because many feel it’s vital to give those most affected by the War on Drugs—those arrested and convicted for low-level drug offenses—a seat at the table, it’s a significant and often difficult issue. Illinois, widely hailed for enacting the most socially progressive of such reforms, is moving forward with expunging the records of such offenses.

social equity in the cannabis industry

Other states have responded with financial incentives, reducing licensing fees for those living in cities disproportionately impacted by enforcement of cannabis laws, or weighing the business license application process towards plans that directly address questions of diversity in all stages of the business.

We don’t purport to have easy answers to this sticky question, but we’re committed to creating a more fair, just, and equitable cannabis industry, one employee at a time.