CohnReznick's Ira Weinstein Talks Social Equity Ahead Of Cannabis Capital Conference

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Ahead of the Cannabis Capital Conference Detroit, the Benzinga events team sat down with Ira Weinstein of CohnReznick to learn more about social equity initiatives in Michigan.

Want to hear more? Weinstein will be moderating the social equity panel Thursday at the Westin Book Cadillac.

Joined by former Michigan legislator Coleman Young Jr. and Ken Bryant, a member of the Michigan Regulatory Agency’s social equity board, the group will be among the first to discuss this new initiative.

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Benzinga: How do the social equity initiatives intersect with diversity and inclusion in the Michigan industry?

Weinstein: Michigan, like every state, has certain communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The focus is obviously on disadvantaged communities, which unfortunately are often more represented by people of color and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

An initiative like this will create participation and inevitably reflect a diverse group and one that is different in many ways from those who will more easily participate in this economic opportunity. In order to be successful, this will have to be embraced and supported across the public-private partnership in which everyone is engaged. 

BZ: What are the challenges in how the social equity initiatives are defined and enacted? 

IW: Any time legislation or regulation creates a preference — even the most well and appropriately intended effort — it’s difficult to implement and manage.

With so much economic opportunity in play, there is a need to create a more level playing field from among licensees, but also a practical reality that you want to have immediate progress in launching this adult use market. So getting everyone to accept the need for social equity is the easy part; executing is much more challenging.

BZ: Why does this matter? What impact does it have on the new Michigan market?

IW: Since we are still in the early stages of the adult use market and since Michigan is more like many states than what transpired in some already functioning markets, eyes will be on this program. It is important for some early victories in the social equity context and the ability to champion them as what is right and responsible in transitioning to adult use.

BZ: What are the implications, both positive and negative, that you foresee in the next year?

IW: It’s hard to say at this point, but the goal is 50% of licenses in the 19 cities participating in the social equity program. Since most of the early phase of licensing will go to those with a current medical license and their [social equity qualification] is an unknown, it may take some time — more than a year — to get to the goal. But it is important for there to be technical assistance and collaboration to create some momentum.

BZ: In your opinion, does the social equity initiative benefit the position of the state within the U.S. market? Or does it more directly affect the cities involved?

IW: I think every attempt to achieve social equity is an important step forward. As states transition to adult use and look to incorporate a social equity program, we will be moving towards better best practices for states to follow. That is the big picture effect.

For those communities involved, we will be building opportunity for the benefit of the community, and that is inherently valuable.

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Ira Weinstein. Photo courtesy of CohnReznick.

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