In April 2020, the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GOBiz) announced that it would be partnering with the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) to distribute up to $30 million in equity grants. Here’s how the Cannabis Equity Grant Program is aiming to support communities that have been disproportionately affected by cannabis criminalization.

Inequity in Cannabis Legislation

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one,” marking the start of the United State’s prolonged war on drugs. The cannabis plant—classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as a schedule I substance—was included in this crusade.

In the more than 40 years since the war on drugs began, drug criminalization has had a disproportionate negative impact on people and communities of color. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, almost 80% of people in federal prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.

Cannabis criminalization in particular has contributed to the unequal treatment of racial minorities under the law. In a 2016 UC Davis Law Review article, Steven Bender, Associate Dean at the Seattle University School of Law, described the bias inherent in the entire lifecycle of cannabis legislation:

“Evident in that timeline is racialization at each stage…in the initial criminalization of marijuana rooted in racial stereotypes, the enforcement of that prohibition throughout the twentieth century to the present day by means of racial profiling, and the recent legalization of recreational (or medical) marijuana in some states. Despite that legalization, marijuana usage continues to disproportionately impose serious consequences on racial minorities, while white entrepreneurs and white users enjoy the early fruits of legalization.”

Cannabis Equity Grant Program

In an attempt to address the longstanding impact of cannabis criminalization, the California BCC partnered with GOBiz, a state organization that promotes job growth and economic development, to create the Cannabis Equity Grants Program for Local Jurisdictions. The new program will focus on providing financial support and fostering inclusion in California’s legal cannabis market for people from communities that have been negatively impacted by cannabis criminalization.

Up to $23 million in funding will go directly to grants and low or no interest loans to help small businesses with technical support, licensing fees, emergency preparedness, as well as recruitment and training for a diverse workforce. Funds will be awarded to applicants who have been identified by their local jurisdictions. While the state can’t right the wrongs of the past, the Cannabis Equity Grant Program is certainly a step in the right direction.