Arizona’s social equity program for marijuana is being critiqued by many. According to the critics, the program does not go far enough in terms of serving those most impacted by the War on Drugs, per online Arizona news outlet, Tuscon.com. The social equity ownership program was part of Arizona’s recreational marijuana law that sets aside 26 cannabis licenses for those disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. Arizona NORML board member, Julie Gunnigle, said via Tuscon.com that “It was supposed to remove what lots of people viewed to be a perverse situation where a person selling cannabis with a license could become a billionaire and a person selling cannabis without one could go to prison for decades.”
Gunnigle says the Arizona program doesn’t put any constraints on license transferability, and fears licenses may eventually be sold to people the program was not intending to serve. She says a newly issued license could be worth up to $10 to $20 million, setting up an incentive to acquire a social equity license only to turn around and sell it. Gunnigle stated, “When you create a program like this, where licenses are freely transferable on Day 1 and are transferable to other people other than social equity applicants and doesn’t have any strings attached…you’ve created a system that’s just right for exploitation.”
Zsa Zsa Simone Brown, a veteran and the owner of a cannabis lifestyle brand who might be a potential social equity candidate herself, wants explicit rhetoric added to the law that only allows social equity licenses to be sold to those who qualify for the program. On the same train of thought as Gunnigle, she fears that well-funded businesses, business executives, and investors may be able to acquire social equity licenses through the holes in the system. Brown’s biggest fear is instead of a dispensary license ending up in the hands of someone living in and from a community affected by the War on Drugs or considered impoverished, it could end up in the new hip and trendy section of a city. She’s quoted in the Tuscon.com article saying, “You’re not going to get anything different if you keep rocking with the same set.”
This past May, the Arizona Draft Department of Health Services released their draft social equity rules, which includes stipulations such as a non-refundable $5,000 application fee, having to live in Arizona for three of the past five years, and meeting four of the following five requirements:
Brown feels the requirements are too broad and as a result won’t fulfill their intended purpose. She said, “They have not mentioned that people of color and veterans and Hispanics had been the people who have been disproportionately attacked and have suffered throughout the war on drugs.” She concludes, “I just feel like this is another opportunity for the state to collect millions of dollars in applications for a handful of licenses. And they’re going to go to the people who already had them.” While it’s nice to see social equity at the forefront of marijuana reform, it does need to be done correctly and handled with delicacy and respect for those to which it is intended to pertain. The sparks of concern from advocates and potential eligible candidates are important voices to hear and perspectives to have.