Region: Eastern Cannabis Business Conference
Social Equity in the Emerging Northeast Market
By Kaisha-Dyan McMillan
February 11, 2020

Social Equity in the Emerging Northeast Market

After nearly a century of cannabis prohibition led to the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of people of color, policymakers in expanding legal markets are charged with establishing a regulatory framework that addresses the harms of the failed drug war. 

Between the heavy regulations, high taxes, and lack of access to funding and other resources, people from communities most targeted by law enforcement are being shut out of the burgeoning multi-billion dollar industry. First launched in California, social equity programs were introduced as a means of addressing this disparity, intended to help reduce barriers of entry for qualified applicants who paid the highest price under prohibition. Building a fair, equitable, and inclusive cannabis industry has become such a priority that not only is it a major talking point in the 2020 presidential election, but also new jurisdictions are starting to include social equity in their regulations outright. In this post, we take a look at how social equity is taking shape in the emerging Northeast market.


Massachusetts became the first jurisdiction to enact a social equity program statewide, offering a range of resources – including access to technical services, professional training, and mentorship – in order to reduce barriers of entry for qualified applicants seeking cannabis business ownership. Program eligibility criteria stipulates that applicants must have lived at least five of the last ten years in an area of disproportionate impact; a household income that falls below 400% of the federal poverty level; a past drug conviction, or have been married to or the child of a person with a past drug conviction; and must be a resident of Massachusetts for the last 12 months.

In 2018, Vermont legalized cannabis possession and cultivation for adults aged 21, and bill S.54 was subsequently introduced and passed by the state Senate in February 2019 to establish regulations for taxation and sales. While there’s still work to be completed on the bill before it can be brought to a vote, one of its key provisions allows for the creation of an appointed advisory committee comprised of members with expertise in systemic social justice, equity, and women and minority-owned business ownership. It also indicates that by November 15, 2020, the board will share with the legislature “a plan to foster economic opportunities for those harmed by cannabis prohibition.”


While voters in Maine approved adult-use cannabis in 2016, no provisions for social equity have been established yet.

States to Watch in 2020

In October 2019, Governors from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut held a summit with officials and industry leaders to collaborate on a joint approach to adult-use legalization in the Northeast region. The resulting core principles established at the summit include implementing “social equity initiatives to ensure industry access to those who have been disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of cannabis.” The guidelines also plan for “implementing meaning social justice reform” through record expungement, fee waivers, and other legislative actions.

Join the conversation at “Social Equity Strategies: What You Need To Know For Winning Applications and Successful Operations That Promote Diversity and Inclusion”, one of the many educational panels at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s upcoming Northeast Cannabis Business Conference. Formerly Seed to Sale Show, #NECannaBizCon invites you to discover the latest regional insights, explore emerging business opportunities, and expand your East Coast network at the industry’s only true B2B cannabis conference to focus on the Northeast market. Meet with NCIA members, entrepreneurs, policymakers, industry leaders, and services providers on 40,000 square feet of expo floor. It happens February 19-20, 2020 at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center. Registration is now open!

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