Though social equity in cannabis has improved, many of its regulators believe there is progress to be made.
During a Grown In webinar on Mar. 24, top cannabis regulators from three states spoke about their experience in making sure cannabis business opportunities remain accessible. They each say that they look to each other for guidance and examples to follow.
Michelle Seagull, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection since 2017, said that states that legalized are looking to find a suitable model and are learning from each other’s successes and failures.
“I think it’s something that’s on everyone’s radar but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Seagull.
Connecticut, which voted for recreational use in June 2021, has several stipulations tied to social equity. This includes measures such as the expungement of cannabis-related convictions dating back to 2000.
Seagull said the state has created a social equity council that tackles community redevelopment and in issuing licenses. They look at arrest records and unemployment rates for drug-related offenses.
Seagull said that equity needs to be more than simply issuing diversity licenses but rather creating a pathway for people to have access to capital and workplace development to avoid creating more problems.
“We learned from things that may have created barriers,” Seagull said. “You can’t just pass a law once and just say ‘okay, we’re done.’”
Danielle Perry, Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer since 2020, said that social equity has improved over the years nationwide, going from being an afterthought to being central to the conversation.
Perry was chosen by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to ensure the state reaches its social equity goals of expungements, industry diversification, and reinvesting the money into the community.
Progress that Perry pointed to was that half of Illinois’ license applicants are people of color, they expunged over half a million cannabis criminal convictions, and have invested $50 million statewide in revenue.
“That’s the blessing of where we’re going and how far we’ve come,” Perry said. “We have so far to go, but I don’t think you can legalize at this point and not have a conversation around expungement, investing in communities, and diversifying the industry.”
Shawn Collins, executive director of the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, said that the public is learning about the potential and the history of the industry that makes it necessary to implement.
Collins mapped out the East Coast’s first adult use cannabis regulatory agency. Under his leadership, the state’s cannabis retailers opened in 2018 with a regulated supply chain. The marketplace has since generated $2.6 in sales from the state.
Perry told Collins that she looks to Massachusetts’ “Social Equity Program” as a model for Illinois to follow.
Collins said that it’s impossible to correct the mistakes of the past, but it’s possible to create a better future for those who have been affected for years from prohibition.
“The public is becoming much more aware of the potential of this industry and also it’s history,” Collins said. “The War on Drugs did real harm to real people. We now have an opportunity not to fix that…but to acknowledge it and help put resources in place to help people in a real sincere way.”