Region: California Cannabis Business Conference
Deep Dive: Understanding Social Equity
By Kaisha-Dyan McMillan
September 12, 2019

Deep Dive: Understanding Social Equity

By Kaisha-Dyan McMillan, journalist specializing in the cannabis industry

Expanding cannabis legalization is a victory, but it doesn’t directly address the impact the war on drugs has had on minority and low-income communities. From disproportionate arrests and incarceration of people of color, to the dismantling of families and neighborhoods, to the obstruction of employment and educational opportunities and much more, it’s important to acknowledge that the criminal enforcement of prohibition did not affect everyone equally.

First implemented in Oakland and subsequently rolled out in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, social equity programs  emerged soon after the passage of adult use laws in California to help ensure that marginalized communities have a seat at the table in the legitimate marketplace. Yet there’s still confusion in the industry about what social equity is and why it’s needed.

What Is Social Equity & Why Do We Need It?

As the ACLU reports,[1] here is a clear history of racial disparity in cannabis arrests and convictions, resulting in harsher punishments for Black and Latinx people despite similar possession and use rates by whites. While legalization at last disconnects cannabis from criminalization, requirements for licensing and permitting include significant upfront capital investment, securing property in some of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation, passing intrusive background checks, and banning those with criminal records from operating in the industry. As these and other effects from prohibition continue to superfluously impact people of color, well-funded investors and entrepreneurs flock to The Golden State to stake their claim in a legal market worth billions.

Social equity aims to lower the barriers of entry into the legal cannabis industry for the communities that suffered most under prohibition. After fulfilling program qualifications – which can include minimum income requirements, having a past cannabis arrest or conviction, or residing in a zip code known to have a higher number of cannabis-related arrests – social equity applicants gain access to a variety of resources supporting a pathway to marijuana business ownership. From access to funding through loan programs, and the option of incubating under a General applicant for free space and mentorship (resulting in permitting priority for the General applicant), to record expungement and community reinvestment initiatives and more, social equity is crucial in righting the injustices of a failed drug war.

Keeping The Equity Conversation Alive

California cities led the charge for social equity, inspiring programs across the country and sparking a national conversation as the prospect of Federal legalization grows. But these programs aren’t perfect, and progress in our home state has been slow due to such issues as staffing and funding limitations, licensing delays, and limited program oversight.

To learn more about social equity, why it benefits the industry as a whole, and how we can work together to improve California’s programs, review our Social Equity Policy Paper and join us for the “Social Equity: An Honest Conversation” educational panel at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s 3rd annual California Cannabis Business Conference. The only cannabis expo to focus on the challenges and opportunities unique to California’s industry arrives October 8-9 in Long Beach – Register Today!

Register for #CaCannaBizCon




Kaisha started journaling when she received her first diary at the age of 9. The practice of using words to document thoughts, process feelings, and weave a story was intuitive from the moment she set pen to page.

When considering a niche in 2016, she originally chose cannabis because of her experience taking it for wellness. After taking a weekend seminar at Oaksterdam University to educate herself further, it became clear that her marketing background and writing skills were how she could best help this burgeoning industry. Her favorite cannabis copywriting projects are those that reduce stigma, provide education, and help consumers understand how cannabis could be a viable holistic option for their needs. As a Gen X African-American woman, her journalistic focus is on the women and people of color doing amazing things in the industry, especially in her hometown of Oakland.

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