26 marijuana dispensary licenses available through Arizona’s equity program

Raul Molina lived a simple life growing up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; he remembers catching tadpoles, playing in the mud, and placing pennies on railroad tracks to be flattened. Instead of counting pennies these days, he’s counting the millions his marijuana dispensary and cannabis company, Mint Dispensary, are making.

“I’m an anomaly, you know, what I did. Mine was all restless, ”Molina said. “I was very lucky with a lot of people who believed in me and helped me get to where I was.”

Now, a few more Arizonans could take a similar break, thanks to the state’s new marijuana social equity program. It will allow minorities, low-level marijuana offenders and others affected by the long war on drugs to purchase one of the 26 licenses available to qualified applicants. The 26 are among 169 retail licenses that have been issued across Arizona.

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With the legalization of recreational marijuana in 18 states, including Arizona, the U.S. cannabis market is growing rapidly. By 2024, the National Hispanic Cannabis Council predicts the industry will be worth at least $ 30 billion.

Molina, an early adopter of cannabis, launched the country’s first cannabis kitchen with partner Eivan Shahara in 2018. Customers can order American fare such as macaroni and cheese, burgers, and chocolate cakes. , all infused with cannabis.

Although Molina is not applying for a social equity license, he hopes to work with some of the state’s social equity partners.

“I tell people all the time, if you want to get into the industry, it’s too late to get in,” Molina said. “But tomorrow is even worse, so you might as well go for it.” “

In addition to the legalization of recreational marijuana, the vote approved by voters last year Proposition 207 Demands the Arizona Department of Health to issue 26 retail licenses to those affected by the nation’s war on drugs. To be eligible, applicants or a family member must have previously been convicted of low-level marijuana, live in one of the 87 zip codes identified as “disproportionately affected by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws in Arizona ”and have a family income of less than 400%. above the poverty line.

Since September, more than 800 potential candidates have taken the training required by ADHS.

Mint Dispensary has three locations in the Phoenix area. (Photo by Kylie Cochrane / Cronkite News)

“We are laying the groundwork for people with roots who have been disproportionately affected by marijuana law enforcement to apply for, open and operate marijuana businesses,” said Steve Elliot, director of communications for the state health department.

But being able to apply, and then opening and running a marijuana business, isn’t an easy or inexpensive feat. Applicants must pay a non-refundable application fee of $ 4,000, form a board of directors, and prepare to operate in a tightly regulated industry.

In theory, the program should help minority groups. Currently, only about 5.7% of cannabis businesses are owned by Hispanics.

“Hispanics have really faced a terrible burden in the war on drugs,” said Brian Vicente, cannabis lawyer and president of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council. “The reason marijuana is banned on dates in the early 1900s, and these are the laws that were put in place to criminalize Mexicans. Since then, we have seen a disproportionate number of Hispanics arrested, prosecuted and jailed for cannabis for decades.

The cannabis council has followed social equity programs across the country, including the one in Arizona.

“It should be noted that there is a broad national discussion about the best ways to try and address the damage caused by the War on Drugs,” Vicente said. “Whether you’re in New York, California, or Arizona, everyone’s trying to figure it out, so I applaud Arizona for giving it a go.”

Danielle Hernández, a cannabis insurance agent in Gilbert, said she grew up in a border town “where we had (drug) mules coming in, where we saw things like that happen, where I had friends and family who were affected by some of these draconian laws.

“It’s great to be able to kind of turn the page,” she said.

“The idea behind all of this is to build generational wealth and change the conversation so that it is predominantly white and male.”

But Arizona’s social equity agenda may not be as fair as it looks, Hernández said.

“We were seeing stuff posted on Craigslist, basically trying to adopt a criminal,” she said.

In a job posting shared by Hernández, the poster was looking for a dispensary owner to support – but would only pay the owner $ 60,000 a year.

“What we do know about the valuation of licenses in the state of Arizona at 10 million (dollars) before they are even up and running is that the disparity in revenues is of great concern and that the lending practices are already in place, ”Hernández said. .

And that’s just the start of the problem, she says. In the final rules drafted by ADHS, applicants cannot enter into pre-agreements to sell their licenses. But once the permit is issued, nothing obliges the owner to keep it. This vague language means that winners can later sell to those who do not meet the conditions of social equity, Hernández said.

Molina saw this happen in Illinois after opening clinics there with a social equity partner.

“What is social equity in this? Molina asked.

Proposal 207 was not well structured, Vicente said, “and how these licenses will be distributed, I don’t think that’s perfect.”

But he thinks it was well intentioned.

“I think the Department of Health and the voters really want to do the right thing. They recognize that Hispanics, other people of color, and disenfranchised groups truly deserve an opportunity to benefit from this new economy. “

Molina said he “would love to see a lot more Hispanics and to be honest with you any type of immigrant. It adds some dynamism to the industry.

With only 169 licenses available in the state, ADHS expects thousands of applications for these coveted 26 licenses. Applications open December 1.

Article by Kylie Cochrane, Cronkite News

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