Justice, Equity & Diversity: Council furthers social equity in adult-use cannabis program

April 26, 2024 10:55 AM
by Tony Kim

At last week's meeting, the Santa Monica City Council moved forward the development of the city’s ordinance on adult-use cannabis, giving additional direction on business locational restrictions and the cannabis social equity component.

The goal of the cannabis social equity component is to develop a program that helps ensure that the communities most impacted by federal and state cannabis enforcement policies are provided an opportunity to benefit from the newly legalized industry.

Social equity in cannabis recognizes the impact that the criminalization of cannabis has had on institutionally oppressed communities. Research from across the United States has consistently demonstrated the disproportionate enforcement of anti-drug laws for these groups, despite similar cannabis usage rates. In particular, Black Americans have been negatively affected by higher rates of arrest and incarceration for cannabis-related activities.

In January, staff secured a $40,000 Cannabis Equity Grant from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development to fund a cannabis equity assessment in Santa Monica. This study, in line with industry best practices, is the first step in developing the equity program.

An equity assessment looks at what the local impacts of cannabis enforcement policies have been, and the groups that have been most strongly impacted. Once the assessment has identified affected communities, the city can explore a variety of policy options for promoting equity, which could include priority application and expedited licensing for equity applicants, technical assistance, and investment of future cannabis tax revenues in community programs.

The city’s equity assessment will analyze both quantitative data, including cannabis criminal arrests and demographics, along with qualitative data from surveys and community engagement to develop key findings and recommendations.

The council gave direction for staff to move forward with a program based on general best practices learned through their research on equity programs in nearby jurisdictions. Staff shared lessons learned about implementation time, license caps, applicant selection, program staffing, and challenges to creating an effective program.

Staff are moving forward with hiring a consultant to conduct the equity assessment. The assessment is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2024, at which time staff will return to the City Council to present the findings and recommendations.

In addition to the direction on the social equity program, the City Council also gave direction for the city’s ordinance to maintain the state-required 600-foot buffer from sensitive uses and opted to add an additional 300-foot buffer between cannabis businesses, with no more than one business per block.

The draft ordinance is expected to go before the council at the end of 2024. More information and background is available in the staff report.

Authored By

Tony Kim
Principal Planner


Policies, Strategic Priorities