Social Equity 

Social equity is concerned with justice and fairness of social policy. Since the 1960s, the concept of social equity has been used in a variety of institutional contexts, including education and public administration.

What Is Social Equity in Cannabis?

Within the past twenty years, cannabis has ascended from being a taboo drug availed in black markets to a top-of-the-line commodity available in above-ground, sleek dispensaries. Now, more than ever, we need social equity within the cannabis space - and it’s time to take the matter into our own hands. 

What does social equity mean exactly?  Its definition varies according to context but generally trickles down to fairness and justice in public policy. In the marijuana landscape, social equity entails the inclusion of black and brown communities in all aspects from consulting to cultivation. 

In most regions, those eligible for social equity licenses must be residing in designated geographical regions where there have been high rates of incarceration and arrests of cannabis-related activity that’s no longer prohibited.  These regions need to have higher than average unemployment and poverty rates. Candidates who themselves have been convicted or arrested, or recruiting personnel who have been convicted or arrested, may be prioritized in their social equity permit application.


Addressing the Impact

of the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs targeted drug users more often than drug dealers - prioritizing the criminalization of drug usage.


According to a 2020 study conducted by the ACLU, New York and California combined spent over $1 billion to enforce their marijuana laws in 2010.


Even when discounting entirely all state fiscal spending on prison facilities, corrections expenditures associated with marijuana possession enforcement are significant - California

spent more than an estimated $65 million of state taxpayer money in 2010 housing individuals in local jail and county correctional facilities for possession of marijuana.


Current state efforts in cannabis equity do not repair the damage created by the War on Drugs.


Initial support for Drug War survivors is commendable, but it does not shift the budget and policy priorities of policy makers in repairing the socioeconomic impacts of the War on Drugs.

Equity Studies

Multiple equity studies have been conducted by cities with the intent

to provide data for municipalities to establish equity programs in their



Public Health Advocates commissioned a report prepared by the

University of California, Davis, Center for Regional Change (CRC). It

documents racial disparities in marijuana arrests in California from

1996-2016 based on an analysis of data from the California

Department of Justice Criminal Offender Record Information.


To enrich the report, CRC collaborated with Million Dollar Hood

Project (MDH), University of California, Los Angeles, to document

disparities in marijuana-related arrests at the tract level in select law

enforcement agencies in California.

The number of marijuana-related arrests and the type of charges has changed over time. However, racial disparities have

persisted, such that African Americans are still nearly four times more likely to be arrested and charged with marijuana

crime than whites.


The highest arrest rates occur in marijuana-producing counties such as Mendocino, where the Black arrest rate in 2016

was almost 4,500 per 100,000 population. For the given year, the African American arrest rate is nearly ten times higher

than the white arrest rate of 480 per 100,000 white population.


The lowest arrest rate for African Americans, 21 marijuana-related arrests, occurred in Lassen County in 2013, and the

highest arrest rate was 5,731 per 100,000 in Mendocino County in 2009.


Large counties, like Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Merced, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San

Diego, San Francisco, Solano, and Ventura, have seen some minor improvements in closing the arrest gap. However, in

some smaller counties with low numbers of African American residents, arrest rates have been increasing (e.g., Amador



Butte County, Nevada County, San Benito County, Shasta County, Siskiyou County, Tuolomne County). The arrest rate

analysis is limited to population data obtained from both decennial US census and American Community Survey

estimates. Population estimates are more precise for larger counties/ cities than for smaller counties/ cities.