Social Equity Under Discussion in Marijuana Legislation

March 10, 2020 | Mark J. Wagner Jr. | Cannabis | Legislation and Public Policy

The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act proposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act under consideration by the State Legislature, would mandate social and economic equity programs as part of legalizing adult-use marijuana in New York, to ensure that communities that have been disparately impacted by the “War on Drugs” will benefit from the state’s new and emerging cannabis industry. As a result, social equity has become a major topic of discussion in the proposed legislation, which would ultimately be incorporated into the state’s budget that goes into effect on April 1.

Social justice advocates and some state legislators have urged that minority communities and individuals who have been negatively affected by the historical prosecution of marijuana possession be provided with resources to participate in this lucrative industry, including loans, business training, expungement of marijuana convictions, and tax revenues, to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to reap the benefits that this industry is expected to bring to New York. The New York State Bar Association has also weighed in, with a report by its Committee on Cannabis recommending that the Governor and state legislators consider provisions like these as part of a social equity program within the adult-use marijuana legislation:

  • Develop incubator programs to provide smaller-scale license holders with resources such as grant funding, education, business training and legal services;
  • Dedicate a percentage of cannabis revenues to support community reinvestment to, among other things, assist residents with expunging marijuana charges from their records, and provide reentry services and job training;
  • Require that at least 25% of employees hired by licensees meet social equity criteria; and
  • Prohibit state and local governments from discriminating against license applicants on the basis of their substance-use treatment histories and convictions unrelated to honesty.

These types of programs are a growing trend among other states contemplating marijuana legislation, with six of the 18 states that have enacted marijuana-related legislation since 2016 having incorporated social equity provisions. It is currently unclear, however, whether these programs will actually provide the intended benefits to these communities and individuals and, ultimately, facilitate the growth of the cannabis industry in these states.

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