Winnipeg could offer up eight more licenses to operate retail cannabis storefronts in the months ahead — but only to those in communities who have been historically impacted by the war on drugs.
The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, March 16, meeting to include the proposal in an ongoing study into potential changes to Winnipegs’s Cannabis Social Equity Program, which is meant to allow low-income residents and those who have been arrested for a minor cannabis offense to see some of the financial benefits of marijuana legalization.
The program was first approved in 2018, but only one applicant has made it through the process to receive a license, even though 79 people have qualified, city staff said earlier this year. So the City Council has looked at different ways to overhaul the program to make it more effective.
Some changes currently being studied are allowing for multiple cannabis manufacturers to operate out of the same location and the licensing and regulating of delivery-only cannabis businesses, both of which are currently banned in Winnipeg.
But Eighth District Councilman Al Austin noted in Tuesday’s meeting that none of the city’s retail cannabis storefronts are owned by the people the Cannabis Social Equity Program aims to uplift, and he hopes to change that.
“That’s a glaring flaw in our equity program, in my opinion,” he said. “As a progressive city that is leading on racial equity and inclusion, we can and should do much better.”
Other council members agreed, and some had their own ideas for how to improve the program.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, for example, proposed tying the new storefronts to economic empowerment zones the city is targeting with some of the $220 million Long Beach Recovery Act, as well as pouring revenue from the program back into those communities and youth.
“I think it’s shameful,” he said, “we’re not investing cannabis dollars back into the youth in our city.”
But that could change; both of his suggestions will be included in the analysis.
For Austin, the end goal of studying changes to the program is clear. And the way he sees it, those changes should come sooner rather than later.
“Equity delayed,” he said, “is equity denied.”