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Empowering Social Equity in the Retail Cannabis Industry

Photo: John D’Angelo, Josephine and Billies

I talk with tons of people every month about opening their dispensary, many of which are social equity retail license applicants. I have also had calls with teams of investors who have a single social equity person on board, and that person will be a name only, silent partner. I’ve had private calls with teams of investors who flat out admit that as soon as the license is secure and running, they’re going to buy out the applicant. I struggle with this concept.

I don’t pretend to have any idea what social equity applicants have gone through to be the recipient of a SE license. Or what the right path/right thing is for someone in their position. These types of situations don’t sit well with me though. I feel strongly that the voices that need to be heard the loudest are the ones that have been imprisoned, underserved and forgotten. My favorite brands speak to me about who they are, where they’ve come from and how high they want to take their cannabis brand. They’re bold entrepreneurs who care about others and want to do things differently.

Social equity programs are essential for cannabis to evolve. It’s crucial that we address the historical injustices and disparities caused by the war on drugs.

Before we jump into the specifics, let’s get a clear understanding of what social equity programs actually are. Basically, these programs are designed to address the unequal impact of previous cannabis-related convictions and the disproportionate barriers faced by marginalized communities in entering the legal cannabis market. By providing support, resources, and opportunities to those most affected, social equity programs aim to level the playing field and foster diversity and inclusivity within the industry.

One of the primary objectives of social equity programs is to break down the barriers that hinder marginalized individuals from entering the retail cannabis market. These barriers can range from financial constraints and lack of access to capital to limited business knowledge and experience. Social equity programs help bridge these gaps by offering a variety of assistance, including:

Access to Funding: Many aspiring entrepreneurs face difficulties in securing the necessary funds to start their cannabis businesses. Social equity programs provide financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, or reduced licensing fees, enabling applicants to overcome this hurdle.

Tech Support: Navigating the complex world of cannabis regulations and licensing can be daunting, especially for those without prior experience. Social equity programs offer training, mentorship, and workshops to equip applicants with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the industry.

Expungement and Record-Sealing: Past convictions related to cannabis severely hurt individuals from participating in the legal market. Social equity programs often facilitate expungement or record-sealing services, helping eligible applicants clear their records and move forward with their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: One of the most compelling aspects of social equity programs is their ability to foster diversity and inclusion within the cannabis industry. By actively encouraging individuals from marginalized communities to participate, these programs help ensure that the benefits of the legal cannabis market are distributed more fairly. Diversity brings fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and unique cultural experiences, enriching the industry as a whole.

The Long-Term Impact: The impact of social equity programs extends far beyond the people and communities they directly help. By actively addressing injustices and dismantling barriers, these programs contribute to the overall decriminalization and normalization of cannabis. They create a more inclusive industry that better reflects the diverse communities and people it serves. Through social equity programs, we can collectively build a cannabis market that is not only profitable but also ethical and socially responsible. That’s the goal.

The cannabis community thrives when everyone has a seat, and a voice, at the table.