New York Social Equity License for Cannabis

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New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis after a campaign that lasted various years. On March 31st, 2021, the state of New York legalized adult-use cannabis by signing the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).

The MRTA established provisions to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework for medical, adult-use, and cannabinoid hemp. The act also has a strong commitment with social equity, making it so that fifty percent of the licenses to be available only to social and economic equity applicants.

Below is a summary of the key social equity program established in the MRTA:

What is a social and economic equity applicant?

The MRTA defines social equity applicants as “an individual or an entity who is eligible for priority licensing pursuant to the criteria established in article four of this chapter [Chapter 7-A of the consolidated laws]”:

What this definition tells us is that the main goal of the social equity program is to give priority in the licensing process to communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition.

In short, a social equity applicant is a person disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. The MRTA lists the following as social equity applicants:

  • Individuals from communities disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
  • Minority-owned businesses.
  • Women-owned businesses.
  • Distressed farmers.
  • Service-disabled veterans.

Also, there’s additional criteria to be taken into consideration, which would give extra priority to applications that demonstrate that an applicant:

  • Is a member of a community disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
  • Has an income lower than eighty percent of the median income of the county in which the applicant resides.
  • Was convicted of a marijuana-related offense or had a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent or was dependent of an individual that was convicted of a marijuana related offense before the effective date of the MRTA.

Benefits of the social equity program

Reduced fees

According to the MRTA, the board shall waive or reduce fees for social and economic equity applicants.

Priority application

The MRTA establishes that at least fifty percent of all licenses will be given to social and economic equity applicants, with extra priority given to applicants with low income or prior marijuana-related convictions.

Direct support from the board

The MRTA establishes the creation of an “incubator program” to encourage social and economic equity applicants to apply for an adult-use cannabis license. If granted, this program must provide direct support in the form of counseling services, education, small business coaching, financial planning, and compliance assistance.


The social and economic equity program is designed to help people disproportionally impacted by cannabis enforcement have access to the lucrative licenses.

If you want to check out the basic outline on how to apply for an adult-use cannabis license in New York, you should check out our post about it, and if you’re thinking about entering the adult-use cannabis industry in New York, make sure to contact a professional, so that you can get the guidance you need in order to get licensed.

Remember that the licensing process is a fairly complicated process that requires a lot of attention to details, some websites sell cookie-cutter guides on how to apply for a license, but unfortunately those seldom make the cut at the end of the day.

Legalizing adult-use is expected to generate annual revenues of about $350 million, with $100 million of that going into a social equity fund. The level of New York’s projected social equity through marijuana law hasn’t been seen before. The remaining $250 million will no doubt help a state that was hit extremely hard by COVID-19.

Don’t miss out on our Marijuana Legalization Map where you can browse the current status of laws in every state in the United States and see all our posts on each of them.





Licensed to practice since 2008, Thomas Howard has represented numerous financial institutions in litigation to enforce their security interests.
Homegrown Cannabis Co's Cannabis Seeds


Licensed to practice since 2008, Thomas Howard has represented numerous financial institutions in litigation to enforce their security interests.

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