The California Cannabis Equity program is turning out to be a headache for the state, its applicants, and it is proving to be not so equitable for the very people who are the targeted beneficiaries. On November 9th, 2016 Proposition 64 legalized specified and personal use and cultivation of Marijuana for adults at least 21 years of age. It also reduced criminal penalties for specified marijuana related offenses for adults and juveniles; and authorizes resentencing or dismissal and sealing of prior, eligible marijuana-related convictions.

The proposition includes provisions on regulation, licensing, and taxation of legalized use. September 2018 California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a state wide social equity program to increase participation in the Cannabis industry among minorities and economically disadvantaged individuals. The Cannabis Equity program’s aim is to provide funding with loans, grants, reduced or waived licensing fees, help with start-up and on-going operational costs as well as technical assistance for local equity applicants and licensees. The California Cannabis Equity program, as ideal as it sounds, is still subject to the same bureaucracy and struggles as any of the state governed social programs such as Food stamps, Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC), and Medical.

These programs are administered by the California Department of Social Services whose budget for 2020-2021 was $37.1 billion. More money, a lot more bureaucracy. When people are trying to get help, feed their families, find shelter, better their lives, red tape bureaucracy is overwhelming, defeating and can cause people to lose hope.

State social programs are inundated with thousands of applicants, multi-layered systems and processes that result in long lines, lots of delayed paperwork, eligibility requirements, time constraints, documentation proof, constant return appointments as well as understaffing. Social programs are meant to assist and are a long way from perfect, but for Californians who wish to participate in the legal cannabis industry this remains the only option. The difference between these state social programs is that the California Cannabis Equity program brings in billions of dollars in state tax revenue. The Marijuana Policy Project reported from 2018 to September 2021 California Cannabis has brought in over 3.1 billion dollars in tax revenue.

As the California Cannabis industry continues its accelerated growth both Social Equity applicants and the state should prepare for a lengthy vacillating journey as the state attempts a monumental endeavor to ensure that the people who were most adversely affected have those charges removed and see themselves released from custody of the state as well as have a fair opportunity to participate and thrive in the Cannabis Industry.

The Entrepreneurial Opportunities within the Cannabis Industry for far too long have only been accessible by those of a higher economic background and of a particular race, while the Entrepreneurial Aspirations of Non Violent Offenders who sold marijuana often see themselves falling into a lower economic background and also of black and brown descent.

The point is that the Cannabis Equity Program has the potential to right some wrongs in regards to Cannabis and its relation to systemic racism and the Prison Industrial Complex, but there is still an opportunity for this program to be unfairly exploited by those who already have the privilege, the means, and demographic to thrive in this field. It will be imperative that a thorough analysis of the demographic and economic backgrounds of people participating are researched to find out how accessible this information is to those who have been disproportionately villainized by prior laws and regulations around cannabis.

Through all of the bureaucracy and hurdles that people will encounter on their path in the cannabis industry this monitoring will need to remain a constant presence in order to achieve the stated desired goal of equity within the ever expanding and lucrative California Cannabis Industry.


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