When Colorado legalized adult cannabis use in 2012 and launched commercial sales in 2014, the focus on social equity was not what it is today. But that hasn’t stopped the Centennial State from filling the gaps.
The Denver Economic Development and Opportunity (DEDO) department, which strives to ensure an inclusive and innovative economy for all residents, businesses and neighborhoods in the city, is launching a targeted entrepreneurial program for aspiring cannabis business owners who is specifically designed to boost ownership among individuals most affected by denial and enforcement policies.
The Cannabis Social Equity Technical Assistance Program is funded by $500,000 of Denver’s retail cannabis sales tax revenue and seeks to train and raise residents who meet Colorado’s requirements definition of a candidate for social equity in the cannabis industry.
The program’s 10-week curriculum will include subject matter experts on topics such as industry history and politics, compliance, delivery and hospitality, and marketing and best practices. Those interested in the program can find out more and register here. (The registration deadline is July 15 at 5 p.m., with the initial training session taking place on July 23.)
As part of a tendering process, the municipal authorities chose The color of cannabis (TCC) as a program partner. Denver-based education center is female-owned and experienced in providing a pathway to help cannabis newcomers understand and navigate entering the industry, including regulatory, legal, financial challenges and logistics associated with space.
“We are thrilled to bring our commitment to greater ownership equity in the cannabis industry to this landmark program,” TCC Founder and CEO Sarah Woodson said in a June 23 DEDO. Press release. “We will serve multiple small group cohorts over the next year and surround them with guidance, mentorship, information and encouragement.”
DEDO’s program success measures will include the number of entrepreneurs from Social Equity candidate businesses who complete the 10-week program, obtain a license, raise capital, create jobs and/or continue to operate with the ownership of social equity at the 12 and 24 month stages. .
Raising and accessing capital was and continues to be a barrier to entry, especially for some people. As the founder of the first black-owned dispensary in Colorado, Wanda James of Simply Pure previously said Cannabis time of its own challenges when raising capital and how the industry could take steps to be more fair and inclusive.
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Due to federal prohibition and SAFE Banking legislation that continually fails to gain traction in the US Senate, cannabis businesses often cannot afford traditional bank loans for start-up costs. Entrepreneurs are further burdened with compliance standards such as Section 280E of the tax code, which prevents cannabis owners from deducting business expenses like a typical entrepreneur can.
In turn, people who have capital to invest or alternative funding resources, as well as industry-specific technical knowledge, have better access to the cannabis space, according to DEDO.
“As part of our extensive social equity efforts in partnership with the cannabis industry, we are pleased to now fund free training for social equity candidates,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, in the press release. “Denver set the standard for successful cannabis regulation as the first city to legalize sales in America. Creating and improving equitable access for all to enter this industry, especially those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, remains our priority.
In accordance with the state’s definition of a social equity candidate, Denver seeks aspiring social equity cannabis entrepreneurs who meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Has resided for at least 15 years between the 1980s and 2010s in a census tract designated as Opportunity zone or disproportionately impacted zone; Where
- The applicant or the applicant’s or applicant’s parent, legal guardian, sibling, spouse, child or minor under their guardianship has been arrested for a cannabis-related offence, convicted of a cannabis-related offence, cannabis or has been the subject of a civilian asset forfeiture related to a cannabis investigation; Where
- The applicant’s household income in the year prior to the application did not exceed 50% of the state median income, as measured by the number of people in the household.
“As with any business start-up, there is a steep learning curve for the tangible and intangible elements of business ownership. In partnership with The Color of Cannabis, we have developed this rigorous program to meet the unique needs [of] candidates for cannabis social equity,” DEDO Executive Director Jen Morris said in the statement. “It’s also important for us to reinvest our local marijuana sales tax money back into the community to level the playing field for wealth creation within the industry.”
DEDO’s Technical Assistance Program Aims to Build on Denver’s Experience social equity programwhich was also created to reduce barriers to entry into the cannabis industry.
A launch event for the program’s initial cohort will take place from 4-7 p.m. on July 21.