Early experiences of cannabis legalisation have brought the issues of social and racial justice to the fore. In the US, fledgling ‘social equity’ schemes have sought to promote market access to communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, or ensure the benefits of the emerging markets are shared equitably and support wider social justice goals in other ways — to varying degrees of success.

The dynamics of cannabis prohibition have been different throughout the world, but in each case there have been marginalised communities and vulnerable individuals disproportionately impacted by law enforcement. As non-medical cannabis markets have been rolled out across the US, a key developing theme has been the role of social equity programmes and equitable licensing policies that seek to promote market access to marginalised or impacted communities. Many states have sought to acknowledge the disproportionate harms of cannabis prohibition, faced predominantly by Black communities and people of Latin American descent, through measures that facilitate market access for these communities, and which are also reparative in nature.

The impact of such measures so far has been limited, but practice is still developing and it is clear that this is a key policy concern going forward. Licensing requirements in some Canadian provinces and territories have similarly sought to promote the interests of Indigenous communities, though US-style social equity programmes have not yet been well developed and both Black and Indigenous people remain underrepresented in the fledgling Canadian cannabis industry.