Some Social Equity Programs Are a Mess. Changes Are Coming.

The concept behind cannabis social equity programs is a noble one. But it’s also new. And three years into the experiment, there is still a tremendous amount of confusion and corruption. To make the system work better for the most marginalized groups, challenges facing social equity programs must be met head-on. That’s a task happening almost exclusively at the local level.

Access to capital continues to be a major challenge for prospective beneficiaries. That challenge is underscored by the predatory practices we’ve seen by some well-heeled investors. A company ostensibly owned by a marginalized individual may be nearly completely controlled by wealthy investors on a practical level. Some municipalities’ equity programs have also been plagued by slowness and red tape.

Changes are afoot. In Los Angeles, for instance, the Cannabis Procedures Ordinance was recently amended after a series of problems. As the Los Angeles Times notes, the city “previously designated the areas hit hardest by marijuana arrests by ZIP codes, looping in wealthier areas along with poorer ones that had high levels of arrests." That meant that wealthy areas in places like Los Feliz were included.

"Now the city is narrowing the eligible areas to police reporting districts — a move that Department of Cannabis Regulation head Cat Packer said would better target the most drastically affected communities," according to the Times. 

For the next round of licenses, the city will also use a lottery system instead of the first come, first serve system that some individuals were able to access early last time.

Recreational cannabis has been legal for just four years now and social equity programs are newer still. It took a long time to get here and it will take a little longer to get it right.


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