July 17, 2020

Social Equity in the Colorado Cannabis Industry

July 17, 2020

There are few who would deny that former President Nixon’s 1971 War on Drugs was aimed at the nation’s Black communities and anti-Vietnam War protestors. That war still rages today though, thanks to persistent advocates, change seems to be in the air.

 A working group in Colorado succeeded in expanding social equity in the cannabis industry as well as expungement and most everyone who is anyone in the state is on board.

While Colorado has had legal cannabis since 2014, racial disparities in arrests did not end there.

In addition, Blacks are and other people of color are severely underrepresented in the booming legal weed market. According to Insider, between 80% to 90% of the weed industry is dominated by white shop owners, mostly male.

Colorado House bill HB20-1424 aims to change that.

Discussions and deliberations over how to implement the bill ended in late June when Governor Jared Polis signed the Social Equity Licensees In Regulated Marijuana bill into law.

 “In the Colorado Marijuana Code, the bill changes the term ‘accelerator licensee’ to ‘social equity licensee’ and alters the qualifications,” reads the new law.

Its goal is to provide a path for economically disadvantaged communities and individuals disproportionately affected by the war on drugs to own and operate regulated marijuana businesses.

“This bill will help overcome decades of inequity in an industry where black people have been criminalized and others have been able to make profits,” State Representative James Coleman and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a Tweet.

The bill lays out a plan whereby social equity licensees can receive assistance from experienced retail marijuana licensees who will receive incentives for endorsing a social equity licensee.

Another important aspect of HB 20-1424 is the ability of Colorado’s governor to unilaterally grant pardons to those convicted of possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, without application and without input from district attorneys and judges. 

Shortly after signing the bill, Gov. Polis unexpectedly announced a mass pardon process for low-level cannabis possession charges to take effect immediately.

Cannabis arrests have stained the records of hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially among minorities against whom racial profiling has been a curse.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Due to racial profiling and bias in marijuana enforcement, Black people are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar usage rates.” 

Colorado’s move to codify social equity in the cannabis industry is a step in the right direction – one that the rest of the legal cannabis states might also want to take.


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