Back in July, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) launched its Social Equity Program. The program aims to encourage participation in the marijuana industry by those living in Michigan communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of laws against cannabis. And it does so primarily through offering people who live in those communities discounts on license applications, fees and other major start-up costs for opening a legal cannabis business.
In addition to lowering financial hurdles to entering the legal industry, MRA social equity representatives have been visiting 19 disproportionally impacted communities. Representatives are holding educational and other informational sessions about the Social Equity Program and the application and licensing process itself. Applications for the program are currently available and representatives can provide one-on-one help completing it. The MRA will begin accepting applications on November 1, 2019.
A part of the legal weed bill Michigan voters passed in November 2018 required the MRA to come up with a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities.
After passage of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act of 2018, the MRA spent several months gathering input from work groups and online surveys to figure out which ares of the state had been most disproportionately harmed by marijuana enforcement. The same stakeholders helped determine how to identify individuals who qualify for the Social Equity Program. They settled on two primary factors. First, marijuana-related convictions, and second, poverty rate.
For the first round, the agency identified Michigan counties with total marijuana-related convictions exceeding the average marijuana conviction rate for the state. From there, they narrowed the list down to areas where thirty percent or more of the population live below the federal poverty level. That left a list of 19 communities, including Detroit, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Saginaw and Flint.
“A lot of work has gone into the development of this program and we are proud of the results,” MRA Executive Director Andrew Brisbo said. “I believe that our Social Equity Program will lead the nation and accomplish the social equity objectives that Michigan voters assigned us last fall when they passed the adult use marijuana proposal.”
Individuals who live in the 19 selected areas and want to start a cannabis business should take advantage of the program’s benefits. The program is offering fee reductions from 25 to 60 percent for qualifying individuals. Anyone who has been a resident of one of the 19 areas from the past five years qualifies for 25 percent off the application fee, initial license fee and future renewal fees. An additional 25 percent reduction is available if the majority business owner meets the residency requirement and has a prior marijuana-related conviction.
The Social Equity Program is also offering 10 percent off, on top of the base 25 percent, for individuals who were registered primary caregivers under Michigan’s informal medical cannabis program, which ran from 2008 to 2017.
Those are the benefits the MRA announced in July. But this week, the agency announced an expansion of the roll out process. The MRA is partnering with several Michigan state agencies related to individuals and businesses participating in the adult-use cannabis industry, as well as medical facility licensees and individuals from the private sector. Combined, the multi-agency approach aims to give potential cannabis business owners the resources they need to succeed in the new industry.