Maryland regulators have unveiled guidelines to determine eligibility for social equity applicants in the upcoming cannabis licensing application period.
The state’s Office of Social Equity is tasked with outlining who qualifies as a social equity applicant, while the newly established Maryland Cannabis Administration will oversee the verification and license application processes.
“As the only state in the country to exclusively reserve the first round of new cannabis licenses to social equity applicants, Maryland continues to lead the nation in promoting access and equity in the adult-use cannabis market,” Gov. Wes Moore said in a statement Tuesday.
“Leaving no one behind means ensuring that communities that have borne the brunt of misguided policies have an equal shot at benefitting from this lucrative industry.”
To qualify as a social equity applicant, businesses must be 65% owned by individuals who meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Have resided in areas highly impacted by cannabis laws for at least five out of the past 10 years.
- Attended a public school in those areas for a minimum of five years.
- Studied at a Maryland college where 40% of attendees received a Pell Grant for at least two years.
The definition of “disproportionately impacted areas” is based on regions with more than 150% of Maryland’s 10-year average for cannabis possession charges, according to the Cannabis Reform Act of 2023. Data spanning from 2013-2022 and 2012-2021 were analyzed for the criteria’s first and third points, respectively.
That window of analysis may not satisfy everybody, as Missouri has received flak over failing to include incarceration data from the periodical peaks of the War on Drugs – specifically in the 1980s, when city jails were packed with low-level marijuana offenses involving mostly Black residents.
Still, the governor and state regulators had high praise for the agencies’ work and the new guidelines.
“By facilitating equal opportunities, we reshape the cannabis industry’s narrative,” said Audrey Johnson, the executive director of the Office of Social Equity. She added that her office would provide the necessary support and technical assistance to social equity applicants.
The news comes after the state in July said it would provide $40 million in grant money to help kickstart social equity operators. The application window for the grant ran from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 and eligible companies could receive up to $5 million each in either a lump sum or a no-interest loan.
That announcement marked the Cannabis Business Assistance Fund’s second phase of financial disbursement. The initial phase aided medical marijuana firms in shifting to the recreational sector.
Upcoming financing rounds from the fund will prioritize Historically Black Colleges and Universities, business incubators, and entrepreneurs seeking licenses. Additionally, the state will earmark funds to provide training for women and minority business owners, according to the state Department of Commerce.
Maryland had a hot start to its adult-use rollout, thanks to a well-established medical market that provided the infrastructure needed to capture initial pent-up demand.