What is Social Equity?
Social Equity in cannabis is a commitment to justice and equality for consumers, business owners, industry leaders, those incarcerated for substances that are no longer a crime, and those who have been impacted by the harms of the failed war on drugs and disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
Why is it important?
Although cannabis is now legal in Michigan and other states, Black and Brown communities have been systematically oppressed by drug policies and law enforcement practices for almost a century. As a company providing safe access to cannabis, we acknowledge our responsibility to give back to communities of color by partnering with and donating to social justice organizations and advocating for policy that increases opportunities for Black and Brown ownership in all aspects of the industry.
We encourage all of our patients and customers to join us in the movement of a more equitable future in cannabis.
How can you get involved at Om?
- Learn about cannabis prohibition, its impact on communities of color and drug legislation today.
- Donate to a social justice organization aimed at repairing harms from the war on drugs and de-criminalizing plant medicine.
Our Social Equity Program Overview:
We utilize hiring practices that prioritize hiring individuals who have been affected by the war on drugs, who understand the importance of social justice and advocacy in the industry.
We train our staff thoroughly on all aspects of cannabis including Social Equity, policy initiatives, and cannabis prohibition history. We also include anti-racism resources, implicit-bias training, and harassment training to ensure that our work and retail space remains inclusive and safe.
We engage our customer base and educate them about policy initiatives to change the political and demographic landscape of cannabis. We also provide and incentivize accessible and quick actions customers can take to make a lasting change while they wait in our lounge (signing petitions, emailing representatives, donating to relevant organizations, etc.)
We use our social media platform to raise awareness for movements of BIPOC. We also use our platforms to educate and share information and content that influences people’s mindset when it comes to cannabis consumption, legality, and inequalities.
We partner with cannabis associations, BIPOC owned businesses and state agencies to improve current the current state Social Equity Program and develop relationships that positively influence our industry.
Skip to a section:
Cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs
Marijuana’s history in the U.S. dates back to the first colonist settlers. Hemp was legally required to be grown by farmers in Britain, who would not have been able to sail to the Americas if it were not for the use of hemp to make sails, rope, fiber, clothing, and other products. The hard labor required to process the rough plant material induced the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, forcefully bringing 12.7 million Africans to the New World, roughly 400,000 of whom were brought to North American plantations to grow and process crops including hemp.
When slavery ended in 1865 (this time period is known as the Reconstruction Era), Black people were systemically kept from land ownership and wealth for the following 100+ years, while white people were able to create generational wealth and prosper.
Cannabis continued to be used as a functional material and herbal medicine until the 1930s, when alcohol prohibition ended. Government officials, like Harry Anslinger, changed their focus from alcohol to drugs, specifically marijuana, and began promoting racially targeted anti-cannabis campaigns like Reefer Madness. Anslinger is quoted as saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”, demonstrating the intentional racist agenda. Legislation followed this propaganda and cannabis became strategically criminalized.
In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was enacted, which made cannabis federally illegal. Although medical use was still permitted, new fees and regulatory requirements significantly curtailed its use.
The Boggs Act of 1951 set mandatory sentences for drug convictions. A first offense conviction for marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $20,000.
In 1970 The Controlled Substances Act is enacted. This caused cannabis to be classified as a Schedule 1 Drug, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, thereby prohibiting its use for any purpose.
In 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “…The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people…We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The consequences of our government officials and these legislative measures harm Black and Brown families to this day. The school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration crisis, and police bias and brutality have devastated People of Color by draining resources for adequate education, transportation, housing. Cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs has furthered the racial wealth gap and exploited Black communities through racially disproportionate drug arrest rates.
In the past 10 years, we have made legislative progress across the country in legalizing the plant for medical and recreational use dependent on state guidelines. However, we have not done enough to repair the harms from these years of prohibition. Some issues we face today include the many Black and Brown folx still incarcerated for crimes no longer considered illegal, a large under-representation of People of Color at an ownership level in cannabis due to many barriers to enter the industry, and lack of industry and government movement to give back to these communities as they flourish in this billion-dollar industry.
Many cannabis brands today contribute to gentrification of the plant by re-introducing it as a new fad and luxury product in a way which overlooks the horrible past of racially-motivated legislation. Many companies in the industry are unsure about how to implement programs and policies that make a lasting and measurable impact for communities of color.
Through education, state and municipality Social Equity Programs, and corporate social responsibility, we can create equal access to wealth in the industry, properly de-stigmatize the plant, and make the cannabis space accessible to all.
Michigan’s Social Equity Program
The Social Equity Program is designed to encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people who live in the 184 Michigan communities which have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.
Currently, Michigan’s Social Equity Program provisions discounted fees and business resources to accepted applicants.
Available fee reductions:
Residency – 25% fee reduction for residency in a disproportionately impacted community for at least 5 cumulative years of the last 10 years.
Marijuana Related Conviction – 25% fee reduction for having been convicted of a marijuana related misdemeanor** or 40% fee reduction for having been convicted of a marijuana-related felony.
**Excluding distribution of a controlled substance to a minor.
Caregiver – 10% fee reduction for registration as a primary caregiver under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act for at least 2 years between 2008-2017.
Source: Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA)
Social Equity Resources for Cannabis Businesses
Michigan recreational marijuana laws state that:
“R420.4(16) An applicant seeking licensure under the Michigan regulation and taxation of marihuana act shall provide a social equity plan detailing a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marihuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marihuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.”
Owning or working at a cannabis-related business provides an incredible opportunity to make lasting change in the industry. Implementing a Social Equity Program at your business empowers you and your staff to raise awareness and advocate for equality in cannabis. It also displays support for communities of color by acknowledging that you understand the ways the war on drugs and cannabis policy has had a systematic impact on Black and Brown lives.
Questions to consider when creating your Social Equity Program:
- Does your business have a mission statement that includes an acknowledgement of responsibility to repair the harms of the war on drugs?
- In what ways does your business already focus on creating a safe space for people of color as customers and employees?
- How many people of color do you have on your staff? Do you have inclusive job descriptions, dress codes, and hiring practices? Do you welcome employees who have a past drug-related conviction?
- How many business partners and product/service suppliers do you work with who are people of color? Do you seek these companies out to support their businesses?
- If you are a licensed Adult-Use Facility, what did you state as your Social Equity Plan on your application? Have you implemented this? If yes, what progress have you witnessed so far?
Ideas for your program:
Educate company leaders and employees.
- There are lots of great books, videos, podcasts, Instagram accounts, and online resources for learning about cannabis prohibition. By understanding the historical context of the war on drugs, it becomes easier to advocate for cannabis equity and legalization today.
- Provide implicit bias training to your company as well as a no-tolerance policy for racial harassment. Promote an anti-racist stance, acknowledge social issues harming the BIPOC community, and be pro-active about racial justice. This will support your employees of color and educate your white employees on allyship.
- Engage your community and show your solidarity by utilizing your social media platforms, newsletters, and in-store marketing. Use rainbow stickers during Pride month, share a post demanding #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor, give a discount for customers who have a misdemeanor or felony from cannabis charge, put a Black Lives Matter sign in the window. Small actions can show your customer base you care and inspire people to show their solidarity.
- Celebrate Juneteenth, celebrate MLK Day, and Black History month. Learn about their significance and acknowledge these as meaningful days to communities of color.
Donate to Reparative Justice Organizations.
- These can be local or national organizations dedicated serving Black and Brown communities through incarceration/re-entry resources, financial aid, civic legal aid, education resources, cannabis start-up resources, and more.
- If you serve a customer base, encourage donations and awareness of these reparative justice organizations and their initiatives.
Help Black and Latinx people enter the cannabis industry.
- Contact your state’s social equity program about becoming a resource, host, or incubator for a Social Equity Applicant. This could be offering legal services, financial services, a sponsorship or grant program, general business resources, sharing cannabis industry skills, and more.
- Support Black and Latinx cannabis companies by carrying their products, supplies, and using their services. This involves actively seeking out alternatives to companies you typically purchase from, and making it a point to do business with companies owned by BIPOC.
Have questions? Want to learn more? Contact Om’s Social Equity Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay up to date with cannabis and legislative reform by subscribing to newsletters like NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws). They give updates on legislation and make it easy to write your representatives in support of bills that will free the plant.
1 – Clean Slate Bills Package
Legislation Pending to Set Aside Past Cannabis Conviction Records
A package of bills is pending that addresses expanding the process for the expungement of past convictions, which could impact those with prior marijuana-related convictions.
Specifically addressing marijuana offenses are:
House Bill 4982 would allow those convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses that are no longer considered a crime to file a petition to “set aside” their records.
Separate from the package is House Bill 5030, which would allow those convicted of certain marijuana-related offenses to file a petition with the court to “set aside” their records.
Other bills in the package:
House Bill 4980 would allow for the automatic expungement of certain convictions if certain conditions are met.
House Bill 4981 would allow certain traffic offenses to be expunged.
House Bill 4983 would shorten the waiting period before a person could petition a court to set aside a misdemeanor offense.
House Bill 4984 would expand the number of felonies and misdemeanors eligible to be set aside and revise the time periods an applicant must wait before filing an application to have an eligible offense set aside.
House Bill 4985 would treat multiple felonies arising from the same time period as one felony.
House Bill 5120 would allow those whose request for expungement was denied to appeal the decision.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has expressed support for these efforts, stating, “For conduct that would now be considered legal, no one should bear a lifetime record.” Several other states have enacted similar expungement laws.
Learn more and take action at:
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884 / S. 2227) is bipartisan legislation that removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thus decriminalizing the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own policies.
The Act would also make several other important changes. For example, it permits physicians affiliated with the Veterans Administration to make medical marijuana recommendations to qualifying veterans who reside in legal states and it incentivizes states to move ahead with expungement policies that will end the stigma and lost opportunities suffered by those with past, low-level cannabis convictions. If approved, the MORE Act also allows the Small Business Administration to support entrepreneurs and businesses as they seek to gain a foothold in this emerging industry.
Learn more and take action at:
George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
The Justice in Policing Act would: 1) establish a national standard for the operation of police departments; 2) mandate data collection on police encounters; 3) reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs; and 4) streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations.
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 will:
-Work to End Racial & Religious Profiling
-Mandate training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
-Save Lives by Banning Chokeholds & No-Knock Warrants
-Bans no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level and conditions law enforcement funding for state and local governments banning no-knock warrants at the local and state level.
-Requires that deadly force be used only as a last resort and requires officers to employ de-escalation techniques first. Changes the standard to evaluate whether law enforcement use of force was justified from whether the force was “reasonable” to whether the force was “necessary.”
-Limit Military Equipment on American Streets & Requires Body Cameras
-Requires federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
-Makes it easier to prosecute offending officers by amending the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct.
-Enables individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement. -Investigate Police Misconduct
-Empower Our Communities to Reimagine Public Safety in an Equitable and Just Way
-Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
-Change the Culture of Law Enforcement with Training to Build Integrity and Trust
-Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices.
-Enhances funding for pattern and practice discrimination investigations and programs managed by the DOJ Community Relations Service.
-Establishes a DOJ task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.
-Improve Transparency by Collecting Data on Police Misconduct and Use-of-Force
-Mandates state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
-Make Lynching a Federal Crime
Source: House Judiciary Committee [https://judiciary.house.gov/uploadedfiles/fact_sheet_justice_in_policing_act_of_2020.pdf]
- Smoke Signals by Martin A. Lee
- The Marijuana Conviction by Richard J. Bonnie
- 13th (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfcq5pF8u8)
- Grass is Greener (https://www.netflix.com/title/80213712)
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Davis
BIPOC, women and LGBTQ+ owned Cannabis Business Database
Organizations to Follow:
Cage Free Cannabis – @cagefreecannabis
Black and Brown Cannabis Guild – @blackandbrowncannabis
Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana – @m4mmunited
Equity First Alliance – @equityfirstalliance
The Equity Organization – @equityorg
The Original Equity Group SPC – @equitysessions
Last Prisoner Policy – @lastprisonerproject
Prison Policy Initiative – @prisonpolicy