As we continue our journey through the dynamic world of cannabis, we find ourselves at an important crossroads to explore a topic that demands our attention: social equity in Vermont’s legal cannabis industry. With the recent legalization of cannabis in Vermont comes the responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access and opportunities within this growing industry.

In our previous blog post, we explored an intriguing topic in cannabis culture: the relationship between cannabis and meditation. Follow along as we navigate the intricacies of social equity and shed light on the initiatives, challenges, and triumphs within Vermont’s legal cannabis industry.

From the prioritization of licenses for equity applicants to programs aimed at providing resources and support, we will uncover the ongoing efforts to promote fairness and justice in the Green Mountain State.

What is ‘Social Equity’?

First things first, before we can define social equity, we must first understand what equity is. Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial and acknowledges that inequalities do exist and works to eliminate them. Social equity takes a look at the systemic inequalities within certain communities to ensure that those communities facing injustices are given access to the same opportunities and outcomes.

When we talk about this subject, we’re shining a light on the fact that marginalized communities, especially communities of color, have borne the brunt of the War on Drugs. They’ve faced disproportionately higher arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis-related offenses, which has had far-reaching consequences for folks of color and their communities.

Social Equity Initiatives for Vermont’s Legal Cannabis Industry

Vermont understands that fostering an equitable market benefits not only individuals but the entire community. As a result, the state has taken proactive steps to promote social equity within its legal cannabis industry. Those proactive steps include various policies, programs, and legislation to empower individuals from disproportionately impacted communities.

Let’s explore the steps Vermont has put in place:

  1. Fee reductions for equity applicants: Vermont has offered waved and discounted fees for applicants who qualify as a “social equity applicant.”
  2. Cannabis Business Development Fund: This fund was established by Act 62 (2021) in order to provide low-interest loans and grants to social equity applicants for the purposes of paying for the expenses associated with starting and operating a licensed cannabis establishment.
  3. Peer-to-Peer Mentorship and Support: This program offers additional opportunities outside of the Fund within Rule 1.4.9 for women, minorities, and others disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition to find support for developing their cannabis business — such as:
    • Grants or other access to capital
    • Creating workforce re-entry programming or training
    • Providing cultivation, manufacturing, or retail space within their larger business
    • Providing management training, or other forms of industry-specific technical training
    • Creating mentorship opportunities from experts.

Vermont’s Social Equity Applicant Criteria

So, what criteria is needed to qualify as a ‘social equity applicant’? According to Vermont’s official website:

  • Must be Black or Hispanic, or
  • Must be from a community that has historically been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition and are able to demonstrate to the Board that they were personally harmed by that impact.
  • Have been incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense or have a family member that has been incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense.
  • No previous Vermont residency is required, but the applicant must currently reside in Vermont.

Additionally, Vermont has applied a policy for applicants who do not meet the criteria for the Board’s social equity program, but still come from historically disadvantaged communities to be considered as economic empowerment candidates.

To qualify for economic empowerment, applicant businesses must be at least 51% owned by a member of a historically disadvantaged community. Those communities include:

  • Women
  • Veterans
  • People with disabilities
  • Members of the LGBTQIA+ community
  • First Nation/Indigenous/Native Americans
  • Asian American / Pacific Islander
  • Other communities of color not explicitly named in the social equity program.


Benefits of Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry

Now that you know the initiatives and qualifications behind social equity in Vermont’s legal cannabis industry, you might be wondering about the benefits of these programs, policies, and legislation.

Social equity initiatives play a crucial role in offering equal opportunities for ownership and active participation in the legal cannabis market. These initiatives encourage and support entrepreneurship while creating jobs, which in turn leads to economic empowerment. They also help bridge the wealth gap among different demographic groups, which promotes social and economic equity.

Beyond just economic benefits, social equity programs in the cannabis industry also offer a platform for diverse voices to influence industry standards and practices. By encouraging representation from historically disadvantaged communities, these initiatives ensure a richer, more inclusive market landscape that can more accurately anticipate and account for issues within the cannabis industry.

More representation leads to more innovative and culturally varied products and fosters a larger community. Additionally, by leveling the playing field, these programs encourage a broader acceptance and normalization of cannabis within societal norms, promoting a healthy dialogue around its use and benefits.

Social Equity Efforts at Zenbarn Farms

At Zenbarn Farms, we are deeply dedicated and committed to social equity. In an effort to meet our commitments, we have launched The Cannabis Equity Fund in partnership with the Pennywise Foundation (501c3 nonprofit), to empower BIPOC individuals in the cannabis industry.

The Cannabis Equity Fund is dedicated to supporting BIPOC individuals in gaining access to the cannabis industry in Vermont and nationwide. We aim to raise funds through voluntary contributions from the cannabis industry, individual philanthropy, grants, and social enterprise.

Together, we can create opportunities and break down barriers, ensuring equal access for all. Join us in our mission to promote inclusivity and foster a more diverse cannabis industry.


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