Drug policy reform advocates gathered virtually at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law on Thursday to discuss the implications of state residency requirements for cannabis licenses as the foundation of social equity and a bulwark against corporate consolidation of the nascent industry.
The debate over the legality of those residency requirements -- which require applicants seeking a cannabis license, in some cases, to be a resident of the state in which they seek to operate their business -- is nothing new, but Thursday's event, co-sponsored by The Parabola Center, a federal policy think tank, highlighted the particular importance of those policies in the context of protecting market pathways for smaller companies owned by those most harmed by the war on drugs.
The stakes for those smaller operators, in particular those equity applicants that were most directly harmed by the drug war, continue to compound by the day due to the influx of lawsuits filed by multi-state cannabis operators (MSO's), flush with cash and intent on preventing states from enacting policies that favor local residents in the application process.
Without those protections, some smaller operators have said they simply cannot compete against the rush of wealthy out-of-state companies seeking to dominate state-level markets.
Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and co-founder of the Parabola Center, moderated the event in the context of that ever-evolving dynamic. Title was joined by Richard Juang, Parabola's legal director and co-founder along with the Center's entrepreneurship director, Shanel Lindsay.
Juang, speaking to me in an interview Thursday afternoon, explained the dangers that exist when courts strike down residency requirements for cannabis licenses;
"Residency requirements are typically part of a bundle of regulations concerned with equity. So, when you begin picking apart these regulations through litigation, piece by piece, you're likely to create a lot of policy consequences that the courts are not able to predict and, of course, not equipped to manage."
This litigation, he tells me, has potentially disastrous consequences for equity program applicants and impedes the work of those who advocate on their behalf;
"Underfunded regulatory agencies have to manage the consequences, not simply in response to state law mandates, but now in the light of court cases that do not take the need to have a coherent and well-managed cannabis sector into account. Bottom line: the work of achieving equity as well as having a competitive cannabis sector becomes harder and more unpredictable."