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Beginning Jan. 21, the Arizona Marijuana Industry Trade Association (MITA) will offer a free, weekly, virtual course for prospective social equity applicants looking to enter the state’s forthcoming adult-use cannabis industry.

While much of the curriculum for the 16-week Social Equity Applicant Mentorship Program is complete, MITA Executive Director Demitri Downing told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary that the association would still welcome industry members who are willing to provide education free of charge.

“We so want people to get involved. … There’s room for other people to add their expertise, and we would love to have them on board,” Downing said.

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Educational Overview

MITA’s course will focus on specific aspects of Arizona’s medical cannabis program and the cannabis industry more broadly, while welcoming speakers from in and around the industry.

Speakers such as Tahir Johnson, membership manager and diversity, equity and inclusion manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association, and Dr. Bobra Crockett, a business professor at Scottsdale Community College, will discuss the first week’s topic, “Social Equity Licensing, What is the Opportunity and Why?”

Then, Lilach Power, founder and CEO at Giving Tree Dispensary, and Janet Jackim, partner at Zuber Lawler, will be among the panelists to dive into the following week’s topic, “History of Arizona Licensing, Structure of Our Market Place and Who is Who?”

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The 16 lessons will weave through divergent takes on the market, from dispensing to cultivation to manufacturing, from extraction to HR to security, according to a course outline that Downing shared with CBT and CD.

“There [are] 1,000 ways to divide up the industry,” Downing said. “We’re just trying to do the best that we can to give them a high-level overview, so some basic information. Our target audience is that true social equity candidate who probably doesn’t know too much about the industry but who’s going to hear about the opportunity. We’re looking at 101s, ABCs.”

Attendees will learn about Arizona-specific regulatory structures and the specific market conditions they create, Downing said, providing this example: “With an unlimited canopy license and what we see as the eventual interstate commerce aspects of cannabis, it’s really wise for the enterprise to invest in a larger-scale cultivation. They shouldn’t plan on facilitating just the Arizona market; they should work towards the national market, as well.”

Along with Downing, who has lobbied on the industry’s behalf and founded MITA in 2016, the mentorship program facilitators are Dr. Will Humble, Paul Paredes and Jeff Tice.

Humble served as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the agency that regulates cannabis in the state. (The medical program was “his baby,” Downing said.)

Paredes is a consultant at AZ MJ Logic—and the designated “fact-checker” for the mentorship program, according to Downing. Paredes has worked in compliance and written applications, and has directed operations for cultivation and dispensary operations in Arizona. (“He will be on every single panel, and his specific task … is to make sure that nothing is said that isn’t true,” Downing said.)

Tice, a certified public accountant, received one of the first cannabis licenses in Arizona for SWC Tempe. (Educationally, Downing said, “he’s going to be helping make sure that we suck the meat off of the bones” of the presentations.)

Social Equity Questions

Who exactly will qualify as a social equity applicant in Arizona? The answer remains to be seen.

Prop. 207, the adult-use legalization measure that voters passed by 60% in Arizona’s 2020 general election, outlined that the state will issue 26 dispensary licenses to social equity applicants. Licensees will be able to cultivate, manufacture and distribute cannabis, Downing said.

Under the Social Equity Ownership Program (SEOP), Arizona will issue licenses to owners who come from communities that have disproportionately faced the effects of cannabis prohibition.

“Anyone can think that they’re eligible for social equity,” Downing said. “We have an idea because of what’s happened in all the other states, but we’ll see what [Arizona] decides.”

Because of the wait for the SEOP rules, MITA has scheduled lesson modules for the end of the course that will touch on those specific requirements. If it takes longer than that for the state to make an announcement, which Downing said it very well may, MITA will delay teaching those modules until the state announces the rules.

The live weekly modules will be recorded so that registrants can view them on MITA’s website later, he added. People who attend all of the modules will be awarded a certificate at the end of the course.

“It will be online for perpetuity,” Downing said. “I guess at a certain point, one or two or three years from now, or as soon as federal interstate commerce transitions this industry, it will become irrelevant, so we’ll probably take it off. But [until then] the knowledge that is shared will be relevant not just to social equity applicants, but anybody who wants to learn about how the Arizona cannabis industry works.”

About 200 prospective social equity applicants have registered as attendees for MITA’s mentorship program so far, Downing said last week; he anticipates thousands of people will register as the news of it spreads.

He stressed the program’s uniqueness, in how it will provide a free overview of the Arizona and national industry with numerous people participating pro bono, adding, “This is something we’re really proud of.”

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