US (AZ): Cannabis social equity program faces new legal challenge

With less than two weeks remaining before the state of Arizona plans to issue 26 “social equity” cannabis licenses, a new lawsuit over the program could delay the drawing.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of three social equity applicants. It alleges that the Arizona Department of Health Services has not fully vetted the 1,500 applicants in the license lottery, even as the drawing nears.

If the drawing is not pushed back, attorneys argue, then the state might issue social equity licenses that will later be revoked. This, they argue, will jeopardize the social equity program and dilute qualified applicants' chances of winning, because the state would consider a pool of bidders that could include ineligible bidders.

The state agency has not filed a response in court yet. Attorneys suing DHS are requesting late court intervention, which, so far, the state has avoided in the program's rollout. Arizona’s social equity dispensary license program has lofty goals. When voters passed a ballot initiative legalizing recreational cannabis in November 2020, they directed the state to create a program to encourage dispensary ownership within communities that were most harmed by onerous laws when pot was illegal.


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