As state legalization measures begin to legitimatize the US cannabis industry, stakeholders, both those currently in the industry and those who plan to join in the not-too-distant future, grapple with the best ways to right the wrongs from the decades-old War on Drugs. While some stakeholders support residency requirements and setting aside a percentage of a state’s cannabis licenses for social equity and economic empowerment applicants, others contend that these solutions are discriminatory. Reuters reports that lawsuits against social equity programs have been filed in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Maine, and some have received decisions that rule against existing social equity programs. While there is disagreement on the best way to create an equitable cannabis industry, few dispute that we’re dealing with an oppressive legacy against low-income individuals and people of color and the cannabis industry is in a unique position to shape a socially responsible industry that focuses not just on profits, but also on the greater good.
Challenges for Social Equity Applicants and Licensees
Currently, Black Americans make up 13% of the US national population, but own less than two percent of cannabis businesses owners, according to Leafly’s Jobs Report 2021. Why? There are five primary factors.
In most states, cannabis licenses are expensive and difficult to get. The application process requires a team of experienced individuals to work on everything from finding and negotiating real estate contracts; to vetting and hiring architects, safety, and security consultants; to working with community stakeholders to gain local approval. After the pieces are in place, applicants have to write it all down, which is a challenge in itself. It is not uncommon for one state cannabis application to be over one hundred pages. Since cannabis is still federally illegal and listed as a Schedule 1 drug, it’s nearly impossible to