Harrisburg, PA. (April 11, 2024) – Today, Pennsylvania lawmakers on the House Health Subcommittee on Healthcare convened a hearing to discuss how to implement social equity measures within an adult-use cannabis program as lawmakers consider legalizing cannabis in the Commonwealth.

Legalizing cannabis is a critical step towards addressing the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition on marginalized communities. It offers a chance to rectify past injustices, reduce unnecessary incarcerations, and reallocate law enforcement resources to more serious and violent crimes.

Following are highlights from today’s testimony:

Tahir Johnson, CEO Simply Pure Trenton and President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association spoke to his experience as a licensed cannabis operator in Trenton, New Jersey. Johnson championed the need for municipalities to understand which communities have been previously impacted by the failed war on drugs and communities with high arrest rates due to cannabis prohibition (ensuring those communities benefit upon cannabis legalization). He voiced the need for minorities and women to have access to capital and cited access to capital as a major obstacle for minority participation in the cannabis licensing process. Because traditional banks are unwilling to bank the cannabis industry, gaining access to capital is a major hurdle. Johnson encouraged programs that would support minorities competing and engaging in Pennsylanvia’s adult-use market. He recommended investment in resources to help educate potential license holders and ensure they are supported on the front end (in opening or operating a dispensary).

Today, I sit before you not just as an advocate for wellness, but as a voice for justice, economic and social equity. As we stand on the cusp of establishing a new adultuse cannabis program, we are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and pave the way for a future that honors the principles of equity and inclusion in Pennsylvania. For far too long, the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable communities, leaving a legacy of injustice, underserved families, and missed opportunities. As we move forward we must ensure that a cannabis program does more than just legalize use; it must serve as a beacon of reform, inclusivity, social and economic justice.” 

–Cherron Perry-Thomas, Co-founder of the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities


“With equity centered cannabis legalization and legislation, Pennsylvania has an opportunity to not only build an industry but dismantle a longstanding construct of racism still persistent in the United States. The war on drugs, predominantly waged against Black and Brown men, has long been a tool of racial oppression. Marijuana possession and sale, whether perceived or real, has provided an excuse for over-policing, state violence, and law enforcement interactions that impact livelihoods well after the interaction and far too often end in death. More than 20,000 people are arrested for possession of marijuana in Pennsylvania every year, and the racial disparities in those arrests are significant. According to the 2020 ACLU report, ‘A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform,’ cannabis enforcement has led to Black Pennsylvanians being arrested 3 times more than their white counterparts for marijuana possession, with simple marijuana possession making up 42% of all drug arrests. This disparity persists even though possession, sale, and usage of cannabis remain equivalent amongst racial groups. These negative impacts must be remediated in every aspect of cannabis legalization and reform.”

–Shekia Scott, Cannabis Business Manager in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, City of Boston


“… In a nutshell social equity is about addressing the harms of previous policies. Regardless of the wisdom of those policies it is well known that they were unevenly enforced. People in lower income communities of color were at much greater risk of being arrested and convicted for a cannabis offense than people in higher income, predominantly white communities. Indeed, wealthy suburban neighborhoods, college campuses, concert venues, and many other places already enjoyed a kind of de facto legalization before any actual changes in law and policy occurred. These disparities have created a situation in which those most likely to have been harmed by prohibition are proving least likely to benefit from legalization, particularly economically.

“Social equity was not a priority in the early days of adult use legalization. But things have changed. Today, most states that have legalized in the past five years have included social equity measures. States like Colorado where adult use was already in place have worked to incorporate social equity provisions into the existing regulatory structures. 

“Each state has done social equity a little bit differently, but they all tend to focus on three things: expanding access to the legal cannabis market for people from disproportionately impacted communities; using tax revenue from legal cannabis sales to (re)invest in disproportionately impacted communities; and eliminating the criminal records of those arrested on cannabis charges or convicted of cannabis crimes, particularly if they are no longer offenses after legalization.” 

–Dr. William Garriot, Drake University

With 90 percent of PA’s neighboring states already legalizing cannabis and a robust medical operation in Pennsylvania for nearly a decade – the ResponsiblePA coalition believes now is the time to legalize cannabis. The time is also now to create a social equity structure that provides critical capital, mentorship, and criminal justice reforms to ensure a balanced marketplace in Pennsylvania that lifts up communities left behind by a systematically flawed war on cannabis.

About Us

ResponsiblePA is composed of patient advocates, doctors, scientists, researchers, laboratories, economic development groups, members of law enforcement, local elected officials, and civil and social equity community organizations from across Pennsylvania. More on the coalition here.