Just over 1,700 people applied for a cannabis license in Maryland’s first round designed to foster social equity, which lawmakers championed as an argument for legalizing recreational cannabis in the state.

Only 179 of those admitted to a state-run lottery will ultimately receive a coveted license or micro-license in this round. This first major round of licenses since legal recreational sales began in July is tailored to benefit people from communities most affected by the war on drugs, which had a disproportionate impact on Black people.

Maryland’s social equity round did not take race into account; instead it worked to increase diversity without running afoul of legal advice against using race as a criteria for eligibility. The state opened the process up to people who either live or attended public school in Zip codes that exceeded the state’s 10-year average for cannabis possession charges by 150 percent or more, or those who attended a Maryland university where at least 40 percent of students received Pell Grants. Those who did not advance to the lottery were informed Friday.

Maryland officials last week touted the diversity of the applicant pool drawn in by the geographic approach. More than half of the applicants self-identified as Black or African American, according to statistics shared by the Maryland Cannabis Administration. Another 22 percent identified as a race other than White, with roughly 84 percent of the businesses that applied identifying either as woman- or minority-owned, or both. Women accounted for 41 percent of the applicants.

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