What are cannabis equity programs? And where can I find them?


Over the past few years, cannabis has become legal in 18 states across the US. High-scale dispensaries have popped up across the country and have already worked wonders for the economy.

But for many families, the effects of the War on Drugs continue, and millions of people are still facing cannabis-related charges and arrests.

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This has led to an explosion of activism for cannabis equity programs for those affected by these charges.

But what are cannabis equity programs? And how can you get involved?

Most people have a lot of questions when it comes to social equity in the cannabis industry. So, we created a comprehensive guide for anyone interested in applying to an equity program, or for those who are just curious about how it works.

What are cannabis equity programs?

Cannabis equity programs allow individuals impacted by the War on Drugs a privileged place in the cannabis industry.

Statistics show that people of color are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis use. Even though more Americans than ever use cannabis regularly, many studies have shown that the Black community still suffers unnecessary consequences.

Black Americans make up a large percentage of the US population, but a very small percentage owns businesses in the cannabis industry.

These programs are designed to reduce systemic challenges and give people an equal chance at success. Many states are creating new laws for cannabis, and with these programs, they will be more included in the legal cannabis industry.

Although many programs focus on creating business owners in minority communities, others have a different approach. Many have started to focus on criminal justice issues, too.

Some states are even expunging minor cannabis-related convictions.

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Participants in cannabis equity programs will receive all required training and skills to enter the industry with confidence.

Creators of these programs hope to urge policymakers to make a change. They have the potential to create more minority-owned businesses and hundreds of jobs for these individuals.

Applicants can usually qualify for a program if they live in an area where many people have been incarcerated or charged for cannabis use.

The general idea is similar across all states, but there are some differences. It’s important to understand how the programs differ state by state, especially if you want to get involved.

What states have cannabis equity programs?

Out of the 50 states, 35 of them have legalized cannabis for medical use. Fifteen have legalized it fully. The following states have implemented cannabis equity programs somewhere in the state:

  • Massachusetts
  • California
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • New Mexico
  • Michigan
  • Vermont
  • Illinois
  • Connecticut
  • Arizona
  • Virginia

Colorado and Washington State are in the process of implementing their programs as well.

Key differences between states

Each state differs in its types of cannabis equity programs. However, there are some key differences between states that are important to understand.

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Many programs require applicants to live in a certain area for a certain area of time. An example would be an area or city with high incarceration rates for cannabis-related convictions.

An applicant may need to live in such an area for a certain number of years to qualify. If an applicant has been arrested themselves or is hiring people who have been, they may receive priority in their application.

Three states stand out with their cannabis equity programs: California, Michigan, and Illinois.

These states have been extremely progressive in their work so far. They are all working on initiatives to clear minor cannabis-related convictions from people’s records.

They also are working to provide reduced fees for people applying to programs from minority communities. All of these states had a clear goal of a social equity program.

However, not every state has the same initiative. While many states have now legalized adult-use cannabis, they do not always have this level of ambition.

What happens next?

Many people have been discussing the effectiveness of these programs for the people they’re designed for. It’s a step in the right direction, but have we seen any real change yet?

Some programs have not been delivering their promises as fully or as quickly as people had hoped. For example, in certain large cities, people have reported waiting for over two years for their application to even be processed.

Many others who have applied have encountered some roadblocks along the way. Some include high startup costs, application fees, taxes, and other financial hardships.

This makes it even more difficult for people of color to have an equal shot at entering the industry with ease.

However, the program in Oakland, CA has shown to be more successful. They require that half of business license permits are issued to social equity applicants.

Taking it even further, they are only giving permits to those who have been arrested for cannabis convictions or have lived in an area where many people have.

There are also some other organizations that are stepping in to move the process along.

MCBA, the Minority Cannabis Business Association, represents all minority cannabis businesses. They work directly with representatives in impacted areas towards more fair cannabis laws and regulations.

They also empower business leaders with educational resources and economic opportunities.

While doing so, they build connections with the communities they are serving. The work they’re doing is seriously changing the game for cannabis social equity.

How to support cannabis equity programs

You can continue to support the efforts of these programs by spreading awareness and supporting minority-owned businesses in your area.

And if you live in a state where there is no cannabis equity program, you can always urge your legislators to start one. You have the power to cultivate change!

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