Social Equity

Social Equity Definition / Criteria

  • i. Previous Cannabis Conviction:
  • ii. Income:
  • iii. State Residency:
  • iv. Qualifying Neighborhood / Municipal Residency:

Within California’s adult use sector, social equity programs are administered at the local level. The 2018 “California Cannabis Equity Act” authorized the state Department of Cannabis Control to provide funding and technical assistance to local equity programs that help local equity applicants or local equity licensees. 

California does not create a statewide definition of social equity eligibility. However, local equity program means a program adopted or operated by a local jurisdiction that focuses on inclusion and support of individuals and communities in California’s cannabis industry who are linked to populations or neighborhoods that were negatively or disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization as evidenced by the local jurisdiction’s equity assessment. 

Within California, social equity programs are administered at the local level, therefore each jurisdiction creates its own social equity eligibility criteria, however, a person is usually eligible for these programs based on having a qualifying income, having a cannabis conviction prior to 2016 and or living in an area that was disproportionately criminalized by cannabis as indicated by specific census tracts, police beats and zip codes. State residency is not a requirement under any of California’s social equity programs.

Social Equity Provisions

In California, social equity benefits are disbursed at the local level and vary based on jurisdiction. The only direct state level benefit available is the state’s fee waiver and deferral program, which allocates at least 60% of waivers to social equity applicants/license holders.

Local equity programs may include, but are not limited to, the following types of services:

(1) Small business support services offering technical assistance or professional and mentorship services to those persons from economically disadvantaged communities that experience high rates of poverty or communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition, determined by historically high rates of arrests or convictions for cannabis law violations.

(2) Tiered fees or fee waivers for cannabis-related permits and licenses.

(3) Assistance in paying state regulatory and licensing fees. (including grants and low interest loans)

(4) Assistance securing business locations prior to or during the application process.

(5) Assistance securing capital investments or direct access to capital.

(6) Assistance with regulatory compliance.

(7) Assistance in recruitment, training, and retention of a qualified and diverse workforce, including transitional workers.

(8) Other services deemed by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development to be consistent with the intent of this chapter.

License Priorities and Set Asides

  • License Priorities / Set Asides:

California does not have any specific licensure set aside for social equity operators, nor is there any state level licensing priority given for social equity applicants. However some jurisdictions such as Los Angeles, offer licensing priority to social equity applicants and exclusive access to certain licenses. For example in Los Angeles, retail, cultivation and delivery licenses are currently limited to Social Equity Applicants until January 1, 2025.

Fee Waivers and Reductions

  • Fee Waivers / Reductions:

Since California social equity programs are administered at the local level, most fee waivers or reductions would be determined by the locality. However, California does have one state level program which provides fee waivers and deferrals for application fees, licensing fees, and renewal fees required by the state. At least 60 percent of the total dollar amount of waivers and deferrals of fees must be allocated equity applicants and licensees.

Other Financial Support for Social Equity Applicants and Licensees

California Equity Grant Program funds are derived from cannabis taxes and are administered through the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development to local jurisdictions to provide assistance for social equity programs. Jurisdictions are not required to give direct funding to applicants, but rather can use state funding to offer specific services and assistance. Gobiz disbursed $30 Million in Grant Funding for Local Jurisdictions for FY2019-2020 and 15 million for FY 2020-2021. No funds were available before the start of adult use commercial sales in 2018.