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It’s no secret that the use of cannabis has carried with it a strong social stigma. That social stigma and prohibition of recreational cannabis use dates back to the 1920s. However, there has been no shortage of propaganda and negative publicity surrounding cannabis use lasting well into the modern age.

Slowly but surely-the previous generations-old social stigma has been reduced. As of 2019, 11 states across the USA, and nationwide in Canada have legalized the recreational use of cannabis.

Municipalities are beginning to see the benefits of cannabis rather than simply the negatives. It all started in 2012, when the states of Colorado and Washington voted to completely lift all prohibitions against recreational marijuana.

Since then, the flood gates have rapidly been opening for a booming cannabis industry within the United States and Canada.

Of course, this has left many people wondering what happens to the tens of thousands of non-violent offenders serving time in federal prisons for cannabis related charges.

The State of Michigan was one of the first states to toss their hat into the recreational cannabis ring. In 2018, the State voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Michigan has historically had some of the most strictly enforced cannabis laws.

As such, cities like Detroit have disproportionately seen mass levels of cannabis related incarceration over the years. Therefore, the State of Michigan has launched what they call a ‘Social Equity’ cannabis program.

The State of Michigan has proposed a program that would help promote careers in the cannabis industry in communities across the State that have been most impacted by the negative effects of cannabis prohibition; it aims to repair the damage that the war on cannabis has caused in these communities.

This program is spearheaded by the Marihuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) and aims to assist in creating businesses, distributing licenses, and the creation of jobs in the cannabis industry in these targeted communities e.g. Flint and Detroit.

How did this Social Equity Program come to exist?

Over the last several months the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) has sought the input of stakeholders in various working groups that included over 150 participants. In addition, they have distributed various online surveys on the matter. The goal was to determine what criteria the MRA should be using to help identify what communities in Michigan have been most disproportionately affected by the prohibition of marijuana and how they should be helped. Moreover, these surveys also helped to determine the criteria they should seek out for certain individuals who would qualify for the services that the Social Equity Program would offer, as well as what those services should be.

The MRA was able to draw on these results and determine the criteria that the stakeholders deemed most important in these cases. The primary criteria seek to address individuals with cannabis related convictions. The secondary criteria is to assist communities with a high rate of poverty.

Using this criteria, 20 municipalities were selected for this program. These municipalities were identified by looking at counties where the cannabis related conviction rates were greater than the overall statewide average.  From those counties identified, they then identified the communities that had at least 30% or more of their community living below the federal poverty rate.

Additional information regarding the program

Representatives from the MRA will visit these communities to educate and provide courses on how the process of an application will work. They will also assist the potential applicants during the application process and assess if they meet the necessary criteria for assistance.

The potential applicants in these municipalities who are seeking licensure will also be granted reduced state fees by the State. In some cases, the applicants in these areas will be granted up to 60% reduction in the total costs of fees.

The aim of the Social Equity program is for the MRA to educate, assist, and encourage participation to stimulate the economy in these communities, and employ members of those communities who have been the most affected by marijuana prohibition.

The communities that have been chosen for this program are:

  • Albion
  • Benton Harbor
  • Detroit
  • East Lansing
  • Ecorse
  • Flint
  • Highland Park
  • Hamtramck
  • Inkster
  • Kalamazoo
  • Morris
  • Pleasant
  • Muskegon
  • Muskegon Heights
  • Niles
  • Pontiac
  • River Rouge
  • Saginaw
  • Ypsilanti