Social equity programs have become a foundational plank of cannabis reform efforts
Programs vary state to state, even city to city, usually with inadequate results
Digital cannabis marketplace Eaze introduces the Momentum social equity program
The buzz phrase in cannabis reform movements taking root from coast to coast these days is “social equity”. For those who may not be familiar with the term, social equity programs are (in theory) meant to promote diversity in cannabis markets by fostering business opportunities for lower-income individuals who have been negatively impacted over the years by the failed War on Drugs.
While social equity licenses and opportunities in the cannabis space are not limited exclusively to minorities, they are aimed at lending guidance, support, and a lower barrier of entry into the industry for those who are financially disadvantaged as well as those who quite literally fought cannabis-related charges… and, let’s face it, minorities (African Americans, in particular) have suffered far more disproportionately under the rule of law when it comes to weed so it only stands to reason that you’ll see more women and people of color being awarded this status. Honestly, if we aren’t seeing that, it isn’t working.
When implemented as a part of statewide policy, social equity programs vary wildly depending on where you focus. For example, Ohio attempted to set a mandate that 15% of all cannabis operations be minority-owned. That motion was found to be unconstitutional, but the state still claims that 16% of its cannabis-related companies meet that standard. By contrast, less than 2% of cannabis licensees in Massachusetts are owned by minorities.
Here in California, social equity options break down even further, by region, with major cities taking the initiative to draft their own social equity programs, again with mixed levels of success.
These programs often offer “incubator” style programs whereby a social equity applicant essentially partners with an established brand or company that is looking for a fast track into the regulated market. By offering to provide rent-free operating space, or mentoring, or technical or logistical assistance, these brands that are currently waiting in a long, long line hoping to get their hands on a limited number of licenses like everyone else can skip that queue and be slanging legal weed in a fraction of the time.
Social equity success stories are not very common here in California, but to be fair, success stories, in general, are hard to come by in the state’s hamstrung cannabis industry. All too often, the incubator companies that piggybacked on the social equity applicant to get their own license end up doing the bare minimum to honor that partnership.
One company is looking to make a difference, though, and they are approaching the issue from an entirely different angle.
Eaze is an online marketplace for marijuana that doesn’t ever stock, or touch or sell any actual marijuana. Instead, it is a digital platform that connects cannabis consumers to cannabis retailers willing and able to provide the goods.
Dating as far back as January of 2018, the company made announcements that it had plans to invest as much as a million dollars in social equity programs in the Bay Area alone. At the time, the startup was literally burning through about that much capital every month, and with state regulators scrutinizing the Eaze (and Weedmaps) business model, no one knew for sure if they’d last long enough to make good on the promises.
Well, at the end of September of this year, the company opened the application process to what they have dubbed the Momentum project, “a business accelerator designed to support and empower underrepresented founders.”
The company received 133 applications and after weighing each individual applicant for their potential for success, lived experience, and the current barriers that they face to market entry, the Momentum advisory board selected ten of them to enter the program and potentially give them the boost they need to succeed.
The list of this year’s awardees includes:
Reese Benton: Posh Green Collective (San Francisco)
Cynthia Boedihardjo: NEWERA (San Francisco)
Luz De La Riva: Luz De La Riva (Oakland)
Nancy Do: Endo Industries (San Francisco)
Raeven Duckett and Demetrius Robinson: Community Gardens (Oakland)
Amber Senter: Breeze Distro (Oakland)
Carolina Vazquez Mitchell: dreamt (Los Angeles)
James Victor and John Alston: James Henry (San Francisco)
Adrian Wayman: Green Box (Portland)
Carlton Williams: New Life CA (Oakland)
Each of these ten people has received a $50,000 grant from Eaze in partnership with Ultranative and Bail Capital. Each will also receive admittance into a 10-week training course instructed by 40 volunteer industry leaders, and each awardee will also be given exclusive access to the Eaze database of business, marketing, and retailer resources.
Eaze, as far as we can tell, has no interest in becoming a licensed entity in the California cannabis industry so their motivation here feels more pure than most. You may also remember hearing about Eaze partnering with Code for America back in April of this year, when they used that innovative algorithm to help to expunge/clear roughly 250,000 past cannabis-related crimes from the records of Californians. This is what cannabis reform looks like… or ought to at least.
Big, BIG shout out to Eaze for recognizing the issue and cultivating a solution! If you work in the regulated cannabis industry in California, we encourage you to click the links above and do some research on these ten minority-owned companies to see if you can help grow the number of social equity success stories into something we can all be proud of.