Equity programs in California’s commercial cannabis market are an attempt by incorporated governments within the state to address the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs on communities of color and to broaden avenues of access to business ownership for people directly affected by the War on Drugs. Consistent with California state law, local city and county governments have ultimate say over regulations within their authority. State law does not require local governments to have equity programs. As cities and counties can move to outright ban commercial cannabis activities, they can also voluntarily develop policies for addressing equity issues.

Why Equity Programs Matter

There is a long-standing history of drug laws in the United States which were essentially targeted at communities of color, who have felt the effects of disproportionate enforcement practices by law enforcement. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 2016, there were more than 2.1 million people in federal, state and local prisons, and jails. (Drug Policy Alliance) Statistics provided by the Drug Policy Alliance indicate that in 2016 there were more than 1.5 million drug-related arrests, of which 84% of arrests were for possession only, and although people of color sell and consume drugs at similar rates to whites, they make up 57% of people incarcerated for drug offenses. (Drug Policy Alliance) An extensive report by the ACLU found that African-American people were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than Whites. (ACLU)

The War on Drugs is decades old, and the impact of the War on Drugs has attributed to multi-generational trauma and community destabilization. Some cities in California have produced Equity programs adjacent to their local commercial Cannabis regulations in an attempt to address this injustice and create access to the industry for people harmed by anti-drug laws and unequal enforcement practices by police departments.