Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed transformative legislation SB 51 into law. This legislation, introduced by the Honorable Senator Steven Bradford (35th District - Los Angeles County), extends the authorization for provisional licenses for social equity retailers. SB 51 provides a vital lifeline for the state’s Equity Entrepreneurs who often find themselves stalled due to the high costs associated with progressing to the final licensing phases, including site acquisition, approval, and inspections. The value of the provisional licensing procedure is that it enables applicants to start their businesses while remaining in the licensing process, which can take years to complete.

What Is California SB 51? Governor Gavin Newsom Approves Latest Social Equity Legislation

Newsom said in a signing statement that while he backs the effort, the bill “does not address the fundamental issues that continue to increase costs and uncertainty for those seeking to participate in the legal market.” He said that the temporary extension “may remove pressure to confront local permitting challenges and slow efforts to facilitate the transition of provisional licenses to annual licensure” and to that end wants to work with lawmakers to “consider long-term solutions to streamline licensing requirements and move us beyond short-term fixes.”

Kika Keith (center, in hat), with her daughter and co-founder Kika Howze (left) and their Gorilla Rx Wellness team celebrate A Great Day on Crenshaw (C) Mark Clennon @mark.c

Gorilla Rx Wellness Founder, Social Equity Advocate And SB 51 Champion Kika Keith On Bill's Success

Kika Keith, co-founder of the Social Equity Owners & Workers Association (SEOWA), which co-sponsored SB 51 and owner of Gorilla Rx Wellness, the first Black woman-owned dispensary in Los Angeles, was one of the key champions of the new legislation. Regarding the passage of SB 51, she stated:

As a co-founder of the Social Equity Owners and Workers Association, a social equity retail license holder, and an unwavering advocate for the Black and brown community members who have endured the harshest consequences of the War on Drugs, I wholeheartedly applaud the passage of SB 51 as a monumental stride towards achieving equity. Senator Steven Bradford's tireless commitment to equity shines brightly through this legislation, and it indeed represents a pivotal move in breaking down the barriers for social equity entrepreneurs.

Yet, as Governor Newsom astutely pointed out, SB 51, while a crucial step, represents just one piece of a complex puzzle. The challenges faced by equity applicants, from limited access to capital and technical support to exorbitant licensing fees and labyrinthine land-use approvals, remain deeply entrenched. We must acknowledge that this bill offers temporary relief, a respite amidst these challenges, but it doesn't address the root issues that continue to escalate costs and uncertainty for those seeking a foothold in the legal cannabis market.

In light of this, I challenge Governor Newsom, alongside our esteemed Legislature, to seize this momentum and move forward with long-term, comprehensive solutions. We need to go beyond short-term fixes, working collaboratively to streamline licensing requirements and dismantle the persistent barriers to entry.

SB 51 is a beacon of hope, but we need more than hope; we need action. It's time to turn these intentions into tangible, lasting change. I look forward to working alongside our dedicated leaders, including Governor Newsom and the Legislature, to forge a path toward a more just and equitable future for all, where thriving in the cannabis industry is within reach for everyone.

SB 51, Social Equity And The 2023 Economic And Racial Justice Summit

The timing of the SB 51 signature came at the tail end of the Economic and Racial Justice Summit 2023 (ERJ) which was presented in San Diego by The Institute for MORE (a program of the California Urban Partnership). A key feature of the ERJ Summit - The People’s Hearing forum - brought together policy makers, activists, and social equity entrepreneurs to focus on defining equity and reinvestment through cannabis policy which encompasses business and economic development, public health, tax revenue and criminal justice system reform. The forum lineup was centered on survivors from regions across the State who have been disproportionately impacted and harmed by California’s War on Drugs. 

Each story was more powerful than the next as social equity advocates shared their experiences in navigating the challenges in California’s social equity program. 

Malaki Amen, Executive Director of The California Urban Partnership, stated, “We want to define what equity is in the cannabis industry because the current California statute gives no guidance. The survivors of the drug war are suffering from racial wealth gaps, which need the attention of our policy makers. Cannabis provides an opportunity to close these wealth gaps sooner, but we have to have a definition about what equity means in the cannabis space. Without it we will continue to be denied access to capital, we won’t get the regulatory or tax relief that is needed, nor the adequate reinvestment in those communities that were harmed by California’s racialized enforcement of marijuana policy. Today, the Institute for MORE will put on a forum to present data, prepare equity operators and Survivors to advocate before the legislature, and get the system changes that are so badly needed.”

Other impassioned voices fighting for true equity in the industry also took center stage at The People’s Hearing during the conference, which was moderated by Erika Smith of the Los Angeles Times, and featured Senator Steven Bradford in attendance. Those voices included presenting speakers Kika Keith; Chaney Turner, Commissioner of the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission; Eliana Green of The Hood Incubator; Jim Keddy of Youth Forward; and Amber Senter of Supernova Women.

What's Next For SB 51 And California Social Equity Entrepreneurs?

 SB 51 will become law on January 1, 2024. Meanwhile, these champions continue to lead the fight to right historic wrongs, empower marginalized communities, and create a more inclusive and equitable cannabis industry. 

To read SB 51, click here. To contact California's state legislators and voice your support for further social equity reforms, click here for the Senate and here for the Assembly. For more information about the California Urban Partnership and the Institute for MORE, visit californiaup.com.


Written By:

Shirley Ju is a journalist, media host, and seasoned music industry professional. She is the founder of Shirley's Temple, a podcast series with a focus on mental health, where her guests include Trippie Redd, Chanel West Coast, Ricky Williams, Blac Chyna, and more. Shirley's work has been featured in publications such as Variety, Complex, Nylon, Flaunt, and REVOLT; she can also be seen doing exclusive interviews for leading urban news source VLADTV, featuring a platform with 5 million subscribers. Find out more about Shirley at @shirju on Instagram and Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

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Erika D. Smith

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Supernova Women

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Featured image: California Governor Gavin Newsom signs bills including SB 51, a lifeline for social equity entrepreneurs. Screengrab via CBS News.