By Timeka Drew
All across the country, cities and states are opening the door for people who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to be able to be an owner of a cannabis business through social equity programs. These programs may give discounts on fees, offer technical support or government supported loans for qualified applicants, as well as additional points or priority processing for cannabis license applications. Social equity applicants will need to find partners to help them capitalize and operationalize their business, but they will be the key to qualifying and submitting the licensing application.
Some programs require social equity qualified applicants to become officially verified before they apply, while others require applicants to submit verification documents as a part of the application process. No matter where you live, or what the exact requirements for social equity verification and licensure are, there are several simple steps every potential applicant can take to ready themselves for the rigorous cannabis license application process.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before diving into the process that come before registering a business to hold the licensing, putting together a business plan and searching for investors:
What is my personal narrative?
Your personal narrative is what connects you to the cannabis industry. Your narrative doesn’t have to begin with the story of a cannabis arrest, how economically challenged you are or have been in the past or how many times the police have driven down your street harassing people smoking pot (although it can include all of those things). Your personal narrative should be a short paragraph about you and your relation to cannabis that you feel comfortable sharing with friends, family and potential business partners. Your personal narrative doesn’t need to include every detail about your life and how cannabis has affected it, but it should give potential business and community partners an idea of your understanding of the industry (if any) and your interests moving forward.
As an example, I will share a short version of my personal narrative:
I am a longtime medical cannabis patient who has been a part of the medical cannabis industry as an employee, consultant to XYZ Company, patient advocate and activist for almost 20 years. I got my first job in cannabis after medically withdrawing from USC Law School because they were unwilling to grant disability accommodations to enable me to succeed, despite being diagnosed with a debilitating digestive disease. I look forward to offering my years of insight, knowledge and passion to my social equity projects.
Do I have records of my personal finances readily available?
Personal financial records are incredibly important when applying for a cannabis license and proving social equity status. Tax documents, pay stubs, proof of public assistance, medical bills and utility bills are all useful for proving residency and income. Most of these documents can be requested and obtained within 7 to 10 days, even if they are not easily able to be downloaded from the available websites. Make sure to go back 5 – 10 years to ensure you have the data necessary to proceed with an application. Oftentimes, potential business partners will ask to view your financial records, especially if they will be used to qualify for a social equity program, before a partnership can be solidified.
Do I owe any financial debts to public agencies?
Delving deeper into the question of personal finances – Have you paid all of your traffic tickets? Are you current on child support? Did you forget to file your state taxes last year? All of financial considerations with public entities should be handled before you apply for a cannabis license, and unpaid debts to governmental agencies (like unpaid taxes, for example) can be a reason for denial of a cannabis license. Make sure you are not met with any surprises during the process and check for outstanding bills. You can do a search for court-ordered debt to ensure you have paid all court-ordered fees and check with your state’s tax board to check on any outstanding taxes.
Have I ever been convicted of a crime? Do I have court records stating the charges and the resolution?
No matter how small the charge, if you have ever been convicted of any crime (even a traffic violation) you should have a copy of the official court record and the resolution if possible. If you cannot get a physical copy of the record, you will still need the accurate information around the charge(s) and the resolution(s) to be able to list it on your application. Charges that have been expunged or cases that have been sealed do not need to be included, but all others must.
Is my identification current?
Imagine going through the entire cannabis licensing application process, only to go in person to submit the application and be turned away because you did not have a valid form of identification – this could easily happen by simply forgetting to renew your driver’s license. Make sure your identification is current and valid before embarking upon the often time-consuming application process.
Am I prepared for my cannabis business information to be made public?
The cannabis licensing process is a public one – if you are lucky enough to score a license, that information is immediately made public for anyone and everyone to find. Before getting too far into the process, make sure you come to terms with the fact that people might come to find out about your cannabis business (before you are ready for them to) and you should be ready to answer questions and address concerns.