When Michigan voted to legalize cannabis in November 2018, the Wolverine State broke the seal on adult-use marijuana reform in the Midwest. And as Michigan begins to work out the specifics of the impending legal industry, local regulators are trying their hardest to make sure that residents most affected by America’s drug war have a fair shot at getting in on the green rush.

This week, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced a new social equity plan in 19 cities, focused on correcting the damage done by the War on Drugs and encouraging entrepreneurship from those previously incarcerated for cannabis crimes.

“We want to provide an opportunity to get into the business to individuals that might not otherwise have that opportunity,” Andrew Brisbo, director of the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency, told the Detroit Free Press. “And we’re focusing our resources on those specific communities that have been disproportionately impacted.”

If the plan is successful, Michigan regulators will award 50% of all cannabis business licenses to social equity participants, including residents who have lived in the 19 cities for more than five years and those who have a marijuana charge on their record. The equity licensing structure will be active in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Hamtramck, and 15 others. 

In addition to priority status for qualified applicants, the equity plan will cut licensing costs by as much as 60%. The $7,000-$47,000 application and licensing process will be reduced by 25% for those who have lived in the select cities for more than half a decade, another 25% for those with cannabis crimes on their record, and another 10% for those who have previously acted as caregivers in Michigan’s medical marijuana program.

“This will provide an overall benefit to the community, ensure that individuals operating the facilities are from that community, and you’re providing good economic opportunities,” Brisbo said.

But while Michigan’s city-specific equity program sounds great in principal, implementation will still need some serious follow-through. Currently, regulators are unsure if the full extent of their plan will come to fruition in a timely manner — or at all.

Since each individual Michigan municipality will decide for itself whether to allow legal weed businesses, there is a chance that one or more of the 19 selected cities will ban the cannabis industry altogether. Adding further potential delays to the equity plan, the majority of Michigan’s initial licenses will go to existing medical marijuana companies, and regulators have not yet explored whether any of the state’s established medical ganjapreneurs would qualify for equity consideration.

As cannabis legalization creeps into the Midwest, states like Michigan have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of their West Coast peers and construct a more socially just cannabis industry. And while it is still yet to be seen if the Wolverine State can actually follow through on those ideals, the equity program is a good place to start.

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