Social Equity In Cannabis: 'This Is The Way That Our Industry Is Expanding'

“Social equity in cannabis has to look like America.”

That’s how Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, kicked off a conversation on social equity this week at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference at the Fountainbleau Miami Beach. 

Benefiting The Communities Most Hurt By The War On Drugs

The country's diversity is not reflected in the cannabis industry today, and it's both a responsibility and opportunity for the industry to find a better balance, Hawkins said. 

One way of finding this harmony is by considering how revenues from cannabis businesses return to the communities that were most impacted by drug convictions.

Cresco Labs CRLBF is invested in the creation of “programs that really work and help create opportunity for the people that have been most negatively impacted by the war on drugs,” said Cresco senior vice president Barrington Rutherford. 

“In addition to jobs directly within the cannabis industry, there are huge opportunities for contractors, and there are opportunities for professional services,” he said, adding that the industry spends millions of dollars annually on products and services that can be allocated to the communities that need them the most.

Cresco Labs has a special division with a goal to “create opportunity for those who most need it,” Rutherford said.

The division supports social justice reform and expungement and tries to stimulate the professional lives of people who have been criminalized by drug convictions. It also supports work development groups, community colleges and entrepreneurs through an incubator program.

Tickets to the next Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Detroit, Michigan April 1 are available now.

Lobbying For SAFE Banking

For Revolution Global, the passage of the SAFE Banking Act is a pillar of the social equity agenda, said Candace Gingrich, Revolution's vice president of business development. 

“The folks who are entering the market need capital. The SAFE Banking Act is going to enable folks who wouldn’t otherwise have access to that capital to have small business loans, to be able to make payroll, to be able to pay their taxes.”

In the view of Gingrich and Revolution, there are many work opportunities available in the cannabis industry — many of which don’t require contact with the plant. The SAFE Banking Act would allow those opportunities to become real, Gingrich said. 

In Florida, job applicants must undergo a background check that prevents those with drug convictions from working in the drug industry, denying them opportunities they deserve, Gingrich said while speaking on the issue of expungement. 

States Doing Social Equity The Right Way

Illinois and Massachusetts have the best social equity programs relative to cannabis regulation, said Kris Krane, the president of 4Front Ventures FFNTF.

In Illinois, the next round of license applications will include a program in which 20% of the scoring for achieving a license is based on social equity qualifications, Krane said. 

As a result, of the 700 companies that have pending applications, 600 are pre-qualified social equity applicants, the cannabis exec said. 

In the view of the Marijuana Policy Project's Hawkins, the existence 

of social equity programs will drive legislation in states still struggling for legalization, like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Legislators of color in those states are going to want to see social equity proposals, he said. 

4Front Ventures’ Krane said that “from an investor’s standpoint, if you’re interested in getting involved in some of these upcoming states — the next round of legal states — you’re gonna have a really hard time getting your foot inside of those markets if you’re not engaged with social equity applicants.”

Cresco's Rutherford said the social equity requirements being established in various states shouldn't be viewed as hurdles to clear or boxes to check.

To achieve true success, the concept of social equity should be truly embraced and meaningful programs should be included, he said. 

“This is the way that our industry is expanding, and it’s the way that our industry should expand." 

Candace Gingrich. Photo courtesy of Revolution Global. 


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Posted In: 4Front VenturesBarrington RutherfordBenzinga Cannabis Capital ConferenceCandace GingrichCannabis Capital ConferenceCresco LabsKris KraneMarijuana Policy ProjectRevolution Globalsocial equitySteve HawkinsCannabisNewsEventsMarkets