According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.1 As state laws regarding the legality of marijuana have evolved, concerns about equitable opportunity in the industry for people of color have been at the forefront of the conversation.
To address this key issue, many states have implemented forms of social equity programs. Similarly, the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) has established such a program and is committed to making Michigan the model agency in the country, including being a leader on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the marijuana industry.
The commercial marijuana industry is in its infancy in Michigan. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2008 and commercialized in 2016. Adult-use marijuana was legalized and commercialized in 2018. As the agency responsible for implementing and administering the laws governing commercial licensure, the MRA recognizes the importance of equity in opportunity for businesses operating in this newly legalized industry.
The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (MRTMA) directed the MRA to create 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.”
As the MRA implemented and expanded this plan, it became clear that the broad language of the statute was not enough to address the specific issue of racial inequities within the commercial industry. Data collected in December 2020 by the MRA on individuals who have an ownership interest in a licensed adult-use establishment in Michigan showed that only 3.8% are black or African American and 1.5% are Hispanic or Latino.2
1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Federal Justice Statistics Program,” http://www.bjs.gov/fjsrc/; E. Ann Carson, “Prisoners in 2016,” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2017). https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p16.pdf
2 MRA adult-use licensee demographic survey results, December 2020: 79.0% white, 3.8% black or African American, 0.8% American Indian or Alaska Native, 3.8% Asian or Pacific Islander, 1.5% Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin, 6.4% other, 4.6% prefer not to answer.
Accordingly, the MRA established a Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup as authorized by Section 2(h) of Executive Reorganization Order No. 2019-2, MCL 333.27001(2)(h), composed of state and local officials and industry stakeholders as follows:
- Representatives of the Michigan Legislature.
- Representatives of municipalities with significant minority populations.
- Representatives of minority-focused marijuana industry groups.
- Representatives of minority-focused business groups.
- Attorneys with experience in racial disparities and equity issues pertaining tomarijuana.
- Individuals with experience in common barriers to the marijuana industry suchas banking, finance, and real estate.
The Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup was charged with developing policy ideas and recommendations to address the disparities in ownership and participation in the marijuana industry by people of color and establishing the State of Michigan as a leader on diversity, equity, and inclusion in this industry.
The workgroup met first in July 2020 and continued to meet monthly through December 2020. Subcommittees were established to focus on key concepts and develop proposals to present to the full body.
The subcommittees were established as follows:
- Social justice – Focused on expungement and medical marijuana and health disparities in communities of color.
- Business development – Focused on access to capital; acceleration, mentorship, and coaching; and talent and placement acquisition.
- Local equity – Focused on land acquisition and ownership and local guidance and ordinances.
- Process and pathways – Focused on an online one-stop on-demand pipeline; additional license types; and innovation in health, science, and entrepreneurship.
- Resource deployment and strategic partnerships – Focused on procurement and supplier diversity and strategic partnerships.
Each subcommittee developed and presented proposals to the full workgroup that included the following elements for the implementation of the proposal:
- A summary of the concept
- Identification of necessary statutory changes
- Identification of necessary administrative rule changes
- Funding required and the proposed source of the funding
- The role of the MRA
- Any external partnersUpdates on the proposals were provided at each workgroup meeting and finally presented to the full workgroup for consideration. Members were also asked to identify the implementation priority of the proposals adopted by the group. The adopted proposals are included in this final report in the recommended order of priority.
As suggested by the workgroup, the MRA will establish a standing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workgroup to continue the focus on these key areas in future policy making and to provide support for the implementation of the proposals adopted by the ad hoc Racial Equity Advisory Workgroup.
Andrew Brisbo, Executive Director Marijuana Regulatory Agency
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