Claiming a Piece of the P.I.E.S: What PA can Learn from Social Equity in the NY Cannabis Market

Claiming a Piece of the P.I.E.S: What PA can Learn from Social Equity in the NY Cannabis Market

Everyone loves pie but, in this economy, it never seems like it gets divided up fairly. Twenty one states and Washington D.C. have legalized Adult-Use Cannabis (AUC), but social equity policies have varying degrees of success in providing a slice of entrepreneurial possibility to legacy operators. 

Pennsylvania has yet to legalize Adult-Use Cannabis, which puts us in a unique position to learn from other states, like our neighbors in New York, who are offering up valuable lessons…

Since AUC legislation passed in 2021, Forbes identified a potentially fatal flaw in New York’s regulatory structure that could jeopardize the good intentions of the approved social equity program that reserves Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses for applicants, or family members, who have been convicted of a cannabis related offense. This isn’t the only problem, though. There are questions as to how these CAURD licensees will procure or maintain inventory with no clear path to financing.

In a free market that depends on competition to weed out the most vulnerable entrepreneurs, it seems that the very people the law was meant to help are left just out of reach of their slice of the pie. 

The legacy community, pejoratively known as the “black market”, represents cannabis entrepreneurs operating under the radar. With the looming threat of incarceration, the legacy market operates under self-regulated authority for its own self preservation. While this kind of market can be characterized by gang violence, turf wars and untaxed cash transactions, the same market rids itself of bad actors, frowns upon selling to minors and prides itself on the quality of its bud. 

Out performing its regulated counterpart by three times, the legacy market should be acknowledged for its success- success that neither the war on drugs nor regulation could destroy. The question remains– how can the intention of legislation incentivize and partner with the legacy operators to transition to a successfully regulated market? 

A group of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advocates with the National Cannabis Industry Association is hoping to bake a new social equity solution called P.I.E.S. into the mix. P.I.E.S. is an acronym for Pairing (existing marijuana operators with partners), Incubating(allocating resources, mentorships and technical assistance to launch successful businesses) , Excel (beyond launch to withstand startup challenges within first 3 – 5 years) and Seed (capital and inventory to cover initial startup cost). This program will provide a larger slice for legacy operators in disadvantaged communities most harmed by the War on Drugs. 

As the Pennsylvania legislature gears up to launch its own AUC legislation, proponents have the opportunity to advance meaningful social equity policies before free market capitalistic tendencies bend toward profiteers and multi-state organizations. At the end of the day, we need a policy that will right the wrongs of the war on drugs and keep pot profits on the plates of Pennsylvanians.

Tara Zrinski is the Campaign Director for the Pot Profits for Pennsylvanians (P3) Campaign. She joins All Together Now PA with a dynamic background as a local legislator in Northampton County, community organizer for environmental non-profits and adjunct professor of Philosophy at DeSales University and Northampton Community College.