A Guide To Social Equity Programs and Hiring in Cannabis

August 17, 2022

Social equity is an important topic in cannabis due to the history of systemic inequities against disadvantaged minorities during the war on drugs.  These inequities include racial disparities involving marijuana arrests, fines, and sentencing.  Although these patterns are beginning to change, much work is still to be done.

If you are a dispensary owner, this guide will help you become familiar with social equity programs, and how to hire based on these programs.

If you are looking to grow your dispensary, or start a dispensary and are part of the demographic historically disadvantaged due to the war on drugs, this guide will help you understand if you are eligible, and how you might apply for these programs.

Examples of social inequity from the War on Drugs

2022, Wisconsin
Black Wisconsinites are 4.3X more likely to be convicted for having marijuana white people.

2021, New York 
Across 5 Burroughs, people of color represent 94% of arrests made for marijuana.

2017-2019, Texas
African Americans comprised 30.2% of all marijuana possession arrests, yet only 12.9% of the total population.
Source: Norml, 2022, Racial Disparity In Marijuana Arrests

What is social equity?

Social equity is the fair and just treatment of all people, including those historically disadvantaged.
This includes people who are black, indigenous, of color, women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities.

Why is social equity important in cannabis? 

Because the criminalization of cannabis has disproportionately targeted marginalized and minority groups, namely the African American, Indigenous and POC communities, there is a growing sense of responsibility among the federal government and cannabis businesses to undo this injustice that has destabilized minority communities for decades. 

Social equity programs seek to address the historical injustices of the war on drugs by providing opportunities in the cannabis industry to those most impacted.

This is why the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment (MORE) Act earlier this year in April. The MORE Act was designed to "help those most harmed by the War on Drugs" by expunging prior marijuana-related convictions and directing resources to the most impacted communities through social equity programs. 

Social equity is also important in the cannabis industry because it provides opportunities for entrepreneurship and economic development in historically disadvantaged communities.

What is a social equity program in cannabis? 

A social equity program in cannabis is a government or private initiative that seeks to address the historical injustices of the war on drugs by providing resources such as programs, grants, or other opportunities in cannabis to those who have been most impacted.

Social equity programs typically provide access to capital, technical assistance, and business licenses at a reduced cost or no cost at all. Social equity programs may also set goals for diversity hiring and also set aside a certain percentage of licenses for social equity applicants. Social equity programs vary by state and local jurisdiction, so it is important to research the social equity programs in your area. 

people being a team about social equity hiring

What are some social equity programs to apply for?

Dozens of social equity programs are available nationally and on a state level. Each social equity program has its criteria for evaluating eligibility. Still, one of the main requirements for eligibility is that the applicant has to be from a historically marginalized community. 

Here are some nationwide social equity programs that you should be aware of include:

  • Curio Wellness: The Curio Wellness financing program offers start-up capital to minority business owners who want to open their own Curio Wellness franchise location. You can apply here for funding from Curio Wellness.
  • Dispense: Dispense's Social Equity Program provides discounted prices for their cannabis e-commerce software to bring the industry to more people, especially those from marginalized communities. Follow this link to apply.
  • Momentum: Eaze's Momentum is a business accelerator program for underrepresented entrepreneurs that provides financial support and empowerment. Momentum participants receive a $50,000 grant to help them navigate the high costs of doing business and lay a strong foundation for future success. You can apply here for funding from Momentum through applications for the.
  • Flourish: The Social Equity Program from Flourish gives its seed-to-sale technology platform to social equity users for $420 a year for up to two licenses. To qualify, you need to have a social equity license and revenues of less than one million dollars. Fill out this form to apply.
  • Flowhub: The Flowhub Social Equity Program is designed to remove barriers to entry for entrepreneurs from marginalized communities who want to start a dispensary company. Review the application's questions here to apply.
  • Meadow: In 2013, startup accelerator Y Combinator (YC) devised Meadow's Safe (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) to standardize and simplify early-stage fundraising for startups.
  • project: The NuProject has cash for growth-stage businesses via its NuFuel Loan Program. Established in 2018, the NuProject has been providing Black, Indigenous, and Latinx entrepreneurs in the cannabis sector with company assistance, a network, and capital.
  • Olla: The initiative is aimed at cannabis firms with majority ownership by underrepresented groups in the cannabis sector. Fill out this form on the website to apply.
  • The Parent Company: The Parent Company's Social Equity Fund is a $10 million initial investment with 2% of all future net income as well as mentorship, intended to identify the industry's future entrepreneurs of color and provide them with the funding and guidance they need to create generational wealth in a more equitable and diverse cannabis sector. To apply, fill out this application form.
  • RMCC: RMCC's Social Equity Incubator Program offers applicants monthly business coaching on the best practices of successful cannabis dispensaries. While applications are closed at the moment, you can join the waitlist here.
  • Weedmaps: Weedmaps is a cloud-based software that allows people to find and connect with other cannabis businesses. They're currently selling software and professional support items, as well as more personalized assistance. You can fill out this form to apply.

In addition to the nationwide social equity programs, here are some state social equity programs you should be familiar with: 

  • Social Equity and Educational Development (SEED) Program in Massachusetts: The SEED Program provides technical assistance, training, and financial support to entrepreneurs from communities of color who want to start a cannabis business. 
  • Chicago Cannabis Business Development Initiative: The Chicago Cannabis Business Development Initiative provides access to capital, technical assistance, and reduced fees for business licenses for social equity applicants. 
  • Oakland Social Equity Program: The Oakland Social Equity Program provides technical assistance and reduced fees for business licenses for social equity applicants. Social equity applicants may also be eligible for waived or reduced permitting fees. 

Other state-specific social equity programs include;

  • Arizona Social Equity Partners
  • Arizona Department of Health Services

California Social Equity Programs

  • City of Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation Social Equity Program
  • City of Long Beach
  • The National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA)
  • City of Oakland
  • City of San Francisco 
  • City of Coachella
  • City of Sacramento

Colorado Social Equity Programs

  • BIPOCANN Colorado Social Equity Program
  • Cannabis Business Office
  • Colorado Department of Revenue Accelerator Program
  • Denver Social Equity Program

Illinois Social Equity Programs

  • Abaca
  • Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
  • Green Thumb Industries
  • Good Tree Capital

Massachusetts Social Equity Programs

  • Cannabis Control Commission
  • Boston Cannabis Equity Program

Michigan Social Equity Programs

  • Marijuana Regulatory Agency
  • Marijuana Regulatory Agency Joint Ventures Program

New Jersey Social Equity Programs

  • Cannabis Regulatory Commission Priority Applications
  • New Jersey Cannabis Project

Oregon Social Equity Programs

  • SEED Grand Fund
  • Portland Cannabis Reduced Fee Program
women of color smiling

How do I know if I am eligible to apply for a social equity program? 

Social equity programs vary. Some offer opportunities to acquire a license, others may provide grants or hiring initiatives. The typical eligibility requirement is that you represent or are a part of a community that has been historically disadvantaged and/or impacted by the war on drugs

Some programs may also require you to apply for or attain a social equity license and a cannabis business license from your State, while others have residency requirements.

Social equity programs typically require applicants to submit proof of residency, income, criminal history, and other documentation. It is important to research the social equity programs in your area to see if you are eligible and what documentation is required. 

How should I apply for a social equity program? 

You can apply through the program's dedicated portal if you qualify for a program. Social equity programs typically have an online application process. Once you have gathered all of the required documentation, you will need to fill out the online application. Some social equity programs also require an in-person interview. 

In the section above, we have provided a list of social equity programs and campaigns - so you can follow the links to apply.

What forms do I need to apply for a social equity program? 

Some of the information you need to have on hand before applying includes:

  • Business registration documents
  • Cannabis trading license for your state
  • Business location information
  • Family history
  • State social equity license
  • Tax documents to prove compliance
  • Business ownership information
  • Details on your employees
  • Year-on-year revenues and expenses (some social equity programs require specific revenue ranges)
  • All your compliance-related documents

While being asked to provide all of the information above is rare, it is still wise to have it prepared to make the process more smooth.

Some programs may also require you to disclose if you are already on a social equity program.

people having a meeting about hiring at a dispensary

Can I get funding through a social equity program? 

Social equity programs typically provide technical assistance and training rather than funding. However, some social equity programs may have partnerships with organizations that provide funding for businesses. Social equity programs may also offer reduced fees for business licenses and permits. 

How can I hire at my dispensary based on social equity programs? 

The most effective way for you to hire at your dispensary based on social equity programs is to leverage the various resources the program offers to search for and identify qualified candidates that meet the demographic guidelines of the social equity program you are recruiting through. 

Social equity programs typically have partnerships with organizations that provide training and technical assistance to social equity businesses. 

These programs may also offer reduced fees for business licenses and permits. 
You can use these resources to find qualified social equity candidates for your dispensary. 

Where can I find socially equity programs to help me hire at my dispensary?

Social equity programs typically have a database of social equity businesses providing opportunities where you can search for qualified candidates. You can also post job openings on the website of the social equity program or visit job fairs and other events where you can meet social equity candidates. 

Social equity programs are a great way to find qualified candidates for your dispensary. Participating in these programs allows you to access resources and networks of social equity businesses and candidates. 

Social equity programs are a great way to find qualified candidates for your dispensary and to support the social equity movement in the cannabis industry. 

How can I make social equity hiring a part of my dispensary business plan?

Launch a social equity recruitment strategy to ensure social equity is a part of your recruitment process. This can help you identify and recruit from marginalized communities in your area - making your dispensary more diverse and allowing it to reflect the communities it serves.

Why should I consider a social equity program?

Social equity programs are a great way to support marginalized communities or get support for your business (if you are part of a historically disenfranchised community). With a social equity hiring program, you can find qualified candidates for your dispensary who understand the needs of the communities they serve.

Working with a social equity program also shows customers and the community you serve you aren't just trying to make profits for your shareholders but are also positively impacting the community your business calls home. 

Showing awareness that minority communities have been disproportionately targeted and affected by the war on drugs is the messaging cannabis consumers need to see coming out of the brands they support. 

So find a social equity program in your State that you qualify for and apply today. 

Need help managing your social equity hiring process?

KayaPush has you covered with integrated applicant tracking, license and certification storing, employee self-onboarding, and HRIS functionality it will save you up to 40 hours per week on administrative tasks!

Want to learn more about how to hire at your dispensary? Check out our free guide below!

How to Hire At Your Dispensary Free Guide

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