Following news of Colorado passing $10 billion in cannabis products sold, state lawmakers continue to expand and advance the legal marijuana program. Most recently, state officials have passed measures to increase cannabis possession limits and inject much-needed capital into minority-owned marijuana businesses.
Colorado Governor Signs Social Equity Bill for Cannabis Industry
On March 21st, Gov. Jared Polis signed a measure to establish a new program within Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, providing $4 million in loans, grants, and technical assistance to ‘social equity licensees’ most affected by the War on Drugs.
Gov. Polis, who last year signed off on a separate measure that created statewide standards for social equity license eligibility, was clear with his intentions for the new program:
“We know that the long shadow of drug laws in our failed war on marijuana falls disproportionately on people of color, effectively reducing access to an industry that’s fully legal and regulated in our state,” said Gov. Polis before signing off on the bill. “We cannot leave equity to chance in any industry, particularly a new industry as it gets off the ground.”
The program was developed with the consultation of the Black Brown and Red Badged (BBRB) network, a coalition of black and brown business owners within Colorado’s cannabis industry. According to BBRB Executive Director Hashim Coates, the group’s goal is a marijuana industry that is fair, equitable, and profitable for minority-owned cannabis businesses. Ensuring they reach that goal BBRB works directly with Colorado lawmakers to advance legislation that works toward diversity and inclusion.
“Equity in cannabis is all about new opportunities and having the ability to capitalize on those opportunities,” said Coates. “We know that access to capital is the most critical component to success for these entrepreneurs, so we conceived of a loan program similar to the [federal Small Business Administration].”
The summary of the bill specifies that the grants and loans awarded will be utilized for “seed capital and ongoing business expenses,” as well as “to support innovation and job creation.”
The $4 million investment into local businesses will be funded by Colorado’s cannabis tax revenue, which raked in over $387 million for the state in 2020. Based on the most recent proposal from Gov. Polis and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, about $3 million will be allocated toward a series of low-interest loans for minority-owned businesses. The remaining funds will go to grants for businesses, in addition to support for new business owners through consultations and strategic planning.
Sen. Julie Gonzales, a sponsor of the bill, referenced statistics brought to light by a 2020 survey from the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. An overwhelming majority of marijuana business owners identified as white. Only 12.7% identified as Latino—despite Latino’s representing nearly 30% of the population, and just 5.6% identified as black. Sen. Gonzales commented that the state, “did leave equity to chance for far too long, and [Colorado] saw those inequities reflected in this new industry.”
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