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Social equity program aims to undo legalization’s paradox: NCIA

National Cannabis Industry Association works to support business owners impacted by war on drugs

3 min

Individuals who hold or have applied for social equity licencesoffered by certain U.S. states to communities negatively impacted by cannabis criminalizationqualify for a new opportunity that may broaden their network and help shape public policy. The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is offering complimentary year-long membership, in addition to other benefits, through its new Social Equity Scholarship program.

How to get involved with NCIA’s Social Equity Scholarship program

Applications to NCIA’s Social Equity Scholarship program are being accepted on an ongoing basis. Social equity licence holders must verify their state licence number with NCIA. Those waiting for approval on a licence must submit proof that their application was received by their relevant agency. NCIA saw immediate uptake from cannabis firms.

We received about 60 applications within the first week we launched the program,” said Tahir Johnson, Business Development and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Manager for NCIA. “By being a member of NCIA, there’s access to benefits ranging from relationships to having representation on Capitol Hill.”

NCIA members are eligible to serve on the trade association’s various committees and have access to thought leadership opportunities offered through NCIA’s events and online platforms, according to the organization’s website. 

Beyond membership, monthly mentorship meetings are a featured component of the scholarship program. “When those who have a wealth of knowledge share their experience, [they] can save someone years of trial and error,” said Johnson. “Hopefully there will be other opportunities that come as a result of that.”

The context: supplementing government-led cannabis social equity programs

Cannabis social equity programs are designed to lower barriers to entry for communities disadvantaged by the war on drugs. While eligibility requirements vary, provisions range from priority licensing to grants and technical assistance. Industry advocates have told MJBiz that due to the way these state-run programs are designed, they may not be enough to foster racial diversity, meaning more may need to be done to support marginalized communities in the industry.

“The paradox that we have in the United States is that although cannabis has been legal, a large number of people have been imprisoned for it,” said Johnson. 

“Especially communities of colour. Now that we have a multibillion dollar industry, those same people do not have access to opportunities within the industry. It’s so difficult to be successful and build a business when you’re competing against multimillion dollar companies. As an industry trade association, we want to do our part to give opportunities to communities that have been the most impacted by the war on drugs.”

Beyond the Social Equity Scholarship program

NCIA is soliciting feedback from those interested in supporting the scholarship program. It intends to launch an Opportunity Fund to expand the program and is developing a broader, organization-wide plan for diversity and inclusion.

“It’s an internal task force that we’ve formed with members from leadership, our policy team, stakeholders, board members, [and] different people at all levels to talk about what our diversity plan is: from increasing diversity on the board, to internal hiring, to social media messaging, and ensuring there is proper representation in our event planning,” added Johnson.

“To have the opportunity to take this type of work on is definitely an honour for me, and the biggest thing that inspired me to get into the cannabis industry was wanting to make a change and create access for people of colour.”


  • Social equity licence holders and applicants are eligible for complimentary membership to the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
  • Applications accepted on an ongoing basis

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