Social equity workshops set for aspiring marijuana business owners

Remember the War on Drugs? In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon instituted punitive drug laws and harsh prison sentences with devastating effects on marginalized communities, particularly the poor, Black and Latino populations.

Marijuana played a central role in the mass criminalization of these groups. Now Delaware residents with past marijuana convictions or those living in areas most affected by rescinded marijuana laws are being invited to take part in the state’s emerging marijuana industry.

Beginning in September 2024, the Office of the Marijuana Commissioner will accept applications for “adult use” marijuana business licenses. To promote fair access, the office is holding a series of “social equity” workshops. The sessions are designed to inform potential applicants about the process of obtaining a social equity license in Delaware.

The first workshop was held at Delaware Technical Community College’s Stanton campus on June 5. Among the attendees was Santwan Williams, a Wilmington resident with a passion for plants and nature, particularly growing marijuana.

He said also said he was previously arrested for possession of marijuana. “I did 90 days down in Smyrna for marijuana,” Williams said. “And now it’s legal.”

The 35-year-old said the conviction made it difficult for him to get a job. Williams said he attended the workshop to learn more about the new laws on marijuana and how they might affect his chances of working in the legal cannabis industry in the future.

Workshops cover legal and financial considerations

Although marijuana is legal in Delaware, it remains illegal under federal law. The workshop provided insights into the significant financial investments and legal ramifications of entering the marijuana industry. Along with social equity qualifications, topics included banking, tax, legal and real estate considerations.

Attendees had the opportunity to network with state officials, guest experts and professionals from the Delaware Cannabis Industry Association before the workshop presentations and panel discussion.

Commissioner Rob Coupe opened the presentations with an overview of the process for obtaining a license and the timeline for the legal industry. Key points included:

  • There is no government funding to support applicants, although legislation is pending.
  • A social equity application fee is offered at the discounted rate of $1,000.
  • Two-year social equity and microbusiness licenses issued by the Office of the Marijuana Commissioner are offered at a discounted fee of $4,000.
  • Most banks will not provide loans for a marijuana business and most insurance companies will not offer coverage.
  • Local municipalities have the authority to reject proposals for locating a marijuana business within its jurisdiction. 

Qualifying for a social equity license

Out of the 125 licenses to be issued, only 47 of them will be social equity licenses. To be eligible to apply for social equity licenses, interested parties must meet the following criteria:

  • Social equity applicants must have 51% ownership and control of the business.
  • Have resided for at least five out of the last 15 years in a disproportionately impacted area as indicated on a map defined in Delaware Code regulating alcohol and marijuana. The map is being developed and will be published during summer 2024 before the application acceptance window opens.
  • Was convicted of or found delinquent of a marijuana-related offense under Delaware law before April 23, 2023, except in the cases for delivery to a minor or for any offense involving a Tier 3 quantity of marijuana as defined in Delaware Code.
  • Had a parent, legal guardian, child, spouse or dependent who was convicted of or found delinquent for a marijuana-related offense under Delaware law before April 23, 2023, except for delivery to a minor or for any offense involving a Tier 3 quantity of marijuana as defined in Delaware Code.

More social equity workshop dates and their locations

There are three more workshops scheduled for June. To sign up for a social equity workshop, visit the Office of the Marijuana Commissioner website. All workshops are scheduled from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Presentations will begin at 4 p.m. See below for the dates and locations:

Sussex County

June 12 – Owens Campus Delaware Technical Community College – 21179 College Drive, Georgetown.


June 18 – Wilmington Campus Delaware Technical Community College. 333 N. Shipley St., Wilmington.

Kent County 

June 25 – DNREC, Richardson & Robbins Building, 89 Kings Highway SW, Dover.

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Applicants for all license types must meet minimum criteria, including:

  • A business plan with an annual budget and pro forma financial statements.
  • Experience, training and expertise of the applicant and managing officers.
  • Programs for operations, training and staffing.
  • Plans for safety, security and prevention of diversion.

Sales of “adult use” recreational marijuana are expected to begin the spring of 2025.

You can contact Anitra Johnson at [email protected].

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