Given the magnitude of the systemic injustice arising from years of prohibition, it’s critical to prioritize social justice and equity in the marijuana industry.
The damage caused by cannabis prohibition and the failed war on drugs requires that new marijuana policies and regulations focus on creating opportunities that address and repair past threats and inequities.
Recent polls have found that most Americans believe that the war on drugs was a complete failure. They also believe that legalization, in and of itself, may not equate to true reform unless the issue of social justice and equity in the marijuana industry is addressed.
Prohibition entrenched systemic injustices against low-income, black, and Latino communities that faced significantly higher incarceration rates despite similar use rates across racial and ethnic lines. True reform will only begin when these questions are answered: Does marijuana legalization equal true reform in the cannabis sector? Does legalization address the root cause of systemic injustice and racism that was brought about by the many years of marijuana prohibition?
Below we have outlined seven major steps that will prioritize social justice and equity in the legal marijuana industry.
1. Acknowledge social injustices and lack of equity in the industry
As the saying goes, ‘you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge’. This applies to addressing systemic challenges in the marijuana industry. The marijuana market is rife with opportunities that cannot be accessed by underprivileged communities that were the primary target for prohibition. The most important step in attempting to bring about positive change is to acknowledge that there is a problem. This includes addressing the unequal harms of prohibition that affected low-income, Black and Latino communities. Acknowledging that a problem exists would naturally lead to creating solutions to bridge the gap. This should promote equitable employment opportunities as well as the equitable ownership of resources in the industry.
2. Community Engagement
Community engagement should happen at the lowest level possible to ensure that underprivileged communities are reneged in the process of formulating marijuana policies. This includes getting low- income communities as well as people of color engaged in marijuana commissions and advisory committees as stakeholders.
3. Creating Social Equity Programs
Social equity programs should be created to target individuals and communities that were adversely affected by marijuana prohibition. Those who were incarcerated for marijuana related crimes and their families should be prioritized in these programs. Communities that were more likely to be arrested and incarcerated due to marijuana related crimes should also be prioritized. Low-income earners, for example those earning below 80% of the average median income adjusted for household size are also a priority group.
4. Inclusive Licensing
Inclusive licensing means that applicants should not be discriminated upon based on prior marijuana related convictions.
5. Priority Licensing
Marijuana licenses that can be issued in states such as California and Florida have a ceiling, meaning that they are not infinite. Given that certain individuals and communities faced blatant discrimination and consequently were unfairly burdened by the negative impacts of prohibition they deserve to “benefit” more from legalization. This is just to prevent the monopolization of opportunities by privileged individuals or communities who could be well resourced or better connected in the system. Given the limited number of licenses, equity applicants should be prioritized. This can be achieved by restricting the number of cannabis licenses that are issued to general applicants as well as establishing an equity assistance program to help equity applicant’s access licensing opportunities.
6. Affordable and Accessible Licensing
If equity is to work, cannabis licenses should be made both affordable and accessible to low income earners and people of color. To achieve accessibility it is imperative to waive application and permit fees to level the playing field. If these cannot be waived they need to be reasonable.
7. Provide Financial Assistance to Equity Applicants; on Time
Creating funding programs for equity applicants is not enough. The funds should be made available in good time to allow equity applicants ample time to compete for resources and opportunities.
8. Offer Technical Assistance
Equity applicants need technical assistance to help them get through licensing, compliance, and other regulatory issues. This also includes getting support for crafting a business plan and how to execute it.
9. Implementing Corporate Social Responsibility
Marijuana businesses need to be compelled to develop equity initiatives within corporate social responsibility programs. This includes providing qualifying capital or real estate to equity applicants.
10. Offering Equitable Employment Opportunities
Marijuana businesses should prioritize offering employment to individuals and communities that were most affected by prohibition. This includes individuals with a history of incarceration, their family, or the local community.
When systemic injustices due to prohibition are not addressed, room is created for the entrenchment of vices such as increased drug use and consequent incarceration and all the vile that come with that. This mostly affects disadvantaged communities who happen to have borne the brunt of the dark era of cannabis prohibition. Consequently, it is mandatory that social justice and equity be prioritized in the marijuana industry.
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