Companies and organizations have launched new social equity-focused initiatives, while policymakers have extended industry access and reduced cannabis-related criminal penalties.
As the cannabis industry turns the corner into a new year, many people within the space and in government and policy are advocating for more representation and ownership for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in cannabis. In many cases, they’re making that a reality, all the while acknowledging that much more work needs to be done.
At Cannabis Conference 2021, Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Conference awarded Ngiste Abebe, vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, with a Cannabis Leadership Award. Abebe champions for social equity in the market, and broke down what that really means in an interview for a CBT profile.
“The three pillars of equity that I always raise when I’m talking about equity and policy, which is, first, stop the harm,” she told CBT. “You know, not just stopping arrests, but expungements, resentencing, all of those things. [Second], equity in the cannabis industry means making sure that there’s licensed program support for folks who were impacted by prohibition having the opportunity within the industry. And then equity beyond that, because not everybody who was harmed by prohibition wants to own a license; how else are we restoring the hopes and dreams that were shattered by prohibition?”
These are some of the social-equity storylines that CBT has been following this year:
Internships for HBCU Students and Graduates
The U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) recently announced that it has partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to launch the Spring 2022 Pathways to the C-Suite internship program. Seniors and recent graduates from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will work with eight of USCC’s member companies and organizations.
Johnson, who graduated with a degree in marketing from Howard University, said at the time that some of the largest U.S. corporations scout for talent at HBCUs, like Howard.
After USCC recently announced the internship program, Johnson said, “I’ve already had conversations with other people in the industry that have been inspired to want to take on interns. Hopefully, … we’ll make a big difference in the industry.”
Loans for Microbusinesses in New Mexico
The New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA) Oversight Committee approved a loan program for cannabis microbusinesses.
Small businesses, “particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged communities,” according to a press release, can receive up to $250,000 through the $5 million loan program. Businesses can apply for loans as soon as Feb. 1, 2022, and state officials will review them monthly.
“There is a minimum 5 percent equity requirement, and the loans will be fully collateralized. Loan terms will go up to 5 years, and interest rates will vary from 2 to 3 percent,” according to the release.
Social Equity in an Ohio Adult-Use Initiative
The group behind one adult-use legalization effort in Ohio, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is proposing a 10% tax on adult-use cannabis sales. Out of revenue generated from that tax, 36% would create a Social Equity and Jobs Fund.
If passed, the law would authorize 40 new cultivation licenses and 50 retail licenses. Social equity applicants would get preference, and could become certified as a social equity applicant by proving they have a cannabis-related offense record or reside in a low-income community.
“Also, you can qualify based on social disadvantage,” Coalition Spokesman Tom Haren told CBT. “A business owner or person can demonstrate membership in a racial minority group or show disadvantage due to color, ethnic origin, gender [or] physical disability.”
These are some other social equity-related developments CBT reported on this year:
- Christine De La Rosa, CEO of The People’s Ecosystem, launched The People’s Group to fund other BIPOC- and women-led companies in cannabis.
- Michael Thompson, who served 22 years in prison for selling cannabis, was released in January. For its Summer of Social Justice initiative, Cresco Labs underwrote and supported the documentary, “The Sentence of Michael Thompson” and partnered with community-based organizations on workplace development efforts and expungement clinics.
- Virginia’s adult-use legalization bill includes a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund that will be funded by 30% of the tax revenue generated by the state’s adult-use program. Under the new law, low-level past cannabis offenses will also automatically be sealed.
- Under Connecticut’s adult-use legalization bill, adults can carry up to an ounce and a half of cannabis, and store up to five ounces in their home or in their car’s trunk or glove box. The bill also sets aside licenses for social equity applicants and includes tribal nations.
- Colorado created a Cannabis Business Office to promote social equity.
- California’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Control plans to directly engage with social equity applicants and licensees, and implement fee waivers for social equity applicants.
A Big Fix
On a broader scale, the industry would have more diverse business ownership if the U.S. federal government legalized cannabis, said Wanda James, owner of vertically integrated Colorado cannabis company Simply Pure.
“If we would just legalize it, we would have more Black and Brown owners because we could go to the SBA [U.S. Small Business Administration],” James told CBT. “We could have more Black-, Brown- and women-owned businesses. We could have healthier businesses out there. So, I think we just have to keep pushing that message that politicians just need to do this.”