Social Equity: Critics Say Arizona’s Cannabis Program Did ‘Exact Opposite’ of Voter Intent

Arizona’s social equity cannabis program, hailed as a national model, has faced severe criticism for failing to achieve its intended goals. Alicia Deals, one of the few social equity license holders who retained 100% ownership of her dispensary, highlights the program’s shortcomings and the challenges faced by disadvantaged license holders.

Aiming for Social Equity

In 2020, Arizona voters passed Proposition 207, legalizing recreational marijuana and mandating a social equity program. The goal was to support communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) allocated 26 social equity licenses through a lottery, aiming to provide opportunities for disadvantaged individuals to enter the cannabis industry.

Falling Short of Expectations

Critics argue the program did not provide sufficient support or enforce regulations to ensure the success of disadvantaged license holders. Most recipients sold their licenses to corporate entities, contrary to the program’s objectives. According to Demitri Downing, founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association, the program achieved the “exact opposite” of what was needed.

Alicia Deals’ Journey

Alicia Deals, owner of Cookies dispensary in Tempe, stands out as one of the few social equity license holders to retain ownership. Her success story is a rare exception in a program that has largely seen license winners selling to larger corporations. Deals’ journey highlights the difficulties faced by social equity license holders, from securing funding to navigating complex regulations.

The Legal and Legislative Landscape

The ADHS, tasked with administering the lottery, claims it followed the law with integrity. However, the department’s inability to intervene in the sale of dispensaries has been a point of contention. A Senate bill aimed at addressing issues within the social equity program failed to advance, leaving many problems unaddressed.

Historical Context

Arizona’s journey with marijuana legalization began with Proposition 203 in 2010, which legalized medical marijuana. The recreational use was legalized in 2020 with Proposition 207. Despite generating significant revenue, the social equity program has not effectively addressed the long-standing disparities caused by the war on drugs.

Economic and Social Impact

The state’s cannabis industry is booming, projected to generate up to $1.7 billion by 2030. However, the social inequities remain stark. Black and Hispanic communities, disproportionately affected by past marijuana laws, continue to face significant challenges. Critics argue that the social equity program has not provided the substantial uplift needed in these communities.

Moving Forward

Despite the setbacks, there are efforts to support the spirit of the social equity program. Alicia Deals’ dispensary, for instance, holds Freedom Fridays to support those incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes. Deals’ story serves as a reminder of the resilience and potential within the communities the program aimed to support.

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