A recent Dope Magazine article by this author looked into the exclusion of black people from the legal cannabis industry. Blacks were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, with The Brookings Institution estimating that they have been 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for weed-related crimes than white people — even though consumption levels have been pretty similar, per ACLU data.
As several states have legalized marijuana, giving birth to very successful and profitable businesses, black people weren't part of the picture: only 4 percent of cannabis businesses are African American-owned, according to Marijuana Business Daily.
Seeking to address this racial inequity, major cities in California, Maryland, and Massachusetts have either started or are looking to start social equity programs. These programs strive to provide people of color with opportunities to enter the multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry.
Oakland was the first to kick off an equity permit program, and Los Angeles and San Francisco followed suit almost immediately. Massachusetts launched the first statewide social equity program in the country and recently closed its round of applications for businesses looking to train those disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.
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What Are Social Equity Programs?
“Social equity is defined as social policy that is concerned with the concepts of justice and fairness. It is by no means a new concept, but in recent times the application of social equity to policy has been garnering more attention to communities that feel underserved by their public administration," according to Cannabis Real Estate Consultants.
A program rooted in social equity is about increasing opportunities for those who haven’t been given a fair shot at success in the past. The California cities mentioned above, for instance, are helping people by waiving application fees and allocating many of their license approvals to social equity applicants.
But applicants still face major hurdles that cities can’t really help with, like real estate to set up shop, funding to help cover expenses like inventory and security and a vertically integrated supply chain rooted in technology.
That’s why a few Howard alums decided to start Growing Talent, a minority-owned and operated digital incubator that provides educational and training services to social equity applicants as well as minority-and-women-led businesses in the cannabis industry.
The Growing Talent Incubator
Rashaan Everett is the founder of Good Tree, a vertically integrated medical cannabis delivery service and cultivation operations franchise. Byond Good Tree, Everett's mission is social equity.
That's why he created Growing Talent, a social equity incubator launched in collaboration with cannabis compliance software developer Simplifya.
The equity incubator aims to provide a comprehensive curriculum comprised of videos, written coursework and other materials provided by the law firm Vicente Sederberg. Applicants will be trained on how to use Simplifya’s compliance platform to mitigate their risk.
Focus areas include regulatory conditions, corporate infrastructure, business plan creation, property procurement and funding options. The mission is to empower social equity applicants and communities that have been adversely impacted by the war on drugs with the knowledge and training they need to run a Good Tree franchise.
'We're Clearing The Hurdles'
Social equity applicants who complete the incubator program will be eligible to receive investment capital and financing from Good Tree and Good Tree Capital — which issues loans in California, Washington and Oregon — to launch a Good Tree franchise.
In addition, social equity applicants will be provided with rent-free property to open their dispensaries, the company said. Good Tree said it will provide applicants with proprietary technology that makes it easy for partners to operate a compliant dispensary.
“Risk mitigation has been our focal point. We’re clearing the hurdles that social equity applicants face when they’re looking to raise capital to launch their businesses," Everett told Benzinga.
Next on Growing Talent’s agenda is to fundraise under its parent company, Good Tree Ventures, with expectations that proceeds will primarily fund real estate acquisition for social equity applicants looking to operate a Good Tree Franchise.
“Good Tree is much more than just an incubator,” Everett said.
The company has a license in Oakland, three large licenses in L.A. and almost $2 million in sales, he said.
“The idea is for us to give minorities cash, a curated brand and in-house technology so that they can take advantage of social equity licenses.”
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