Nearly 200 people gathered in the Leimert Park Vision Theater on Tuesday, July 10, for a round-table discussion on social equity in L.A.'s cannabis industry, with speakers including such notables as Cat Packer, executive director of the city's Department of Cannabis Regulation, and Hilary Bricken, a lawyer and legal advocate for Harris Bricken and the Canna Law Group. The idea was to provide an update on the status of L.A.'s licensing rollout for social equity applicants as well as solutions to ensure the city's industry is headed in a direction that supports participants from communities of color and those otherwise targeted by the War on Drugs.
A project of Seismic Advocacy, in partnership with California Minority Alliance, Latinos for Cannabis and Supernova Woman, the round-table was organized by mother-daughter team Mickey McKinney and Janve Sobers, founders of Seismic Advocacy and social equity applicants themselves vying for a micro business license for their cannabis distribution and delivery company, Born + Bred. The event lured a diverse crowd of those waiting out the licensing game and those interested in supporting the cause. According to RSVP survey data, 36.5 percent of guests were social equity applicants, 7.5 percent were general applicants interested in partnering with a social equity applicant, and 40.4 percent were the general public curious about supporting or investing in a social equity applicant.
While most attendees said they had a basic understanding of the social equity application requirements and the overall cannabis licensing process through the city, a majority said their comprehension of the situation was incomplete. "That's why we held this event. We needed to get this information out, to get other people in the same playing field and same level of engagement," Sobers says. "It was an idea born out of our own frustration at Tier 1 social equity applicants struggling to stay independent and not sell our license or do some payout."
L.A. has various criteria for each tier of the social equity application process, including mandates that applicants be low-income; have lived in an area disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs for at least five years; hire locals from the neighborhood; have a prior California cannabis conviction; and so forth.
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While the city hasn't yet gotten around to licensing Tier 1 social equity applicants — and it's unclear when it will actually start — the benefit of the program is to give disadvantaged groups priority processing. That means, for every non–social equity, non-retail application the city processes, it also must process a social equity one, while for every non–social equity retail application, it must process two social equity retail applications (that's 1:1 for non-retail and 2:1 for retail).
The round-table discussion itself covered a broad spectrum of topics, recounts Sobers, most important how the community can come together to support the program. "Show up to City Council meetings, engage with supervisors, let them know we care about social equity," she says.
A good deal of competition within L.A.'s cannabis space will be coming from outsiders swooping in, Sobers adds. "In that room and in this city is where we're supposed to be partners," she says. "We want this program to be funded and fully support by the City Council." The current lack of funding, compounded by the bureaucratic lag, has made for slow progress.
But social equity goes beyond priority processing for license applications, Sobers says. It's about technical assistances, partnerships and social equity mentorships — all things that can ensure fair and equitable business deals happen for people who've been unfairly targeted on account of weed for decades.