Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

New Research: Social Equity Impact of Location of Licensed & Unlicensed Cannabis Outlets in LA County

New ADAI Research with map of LA County and title of paper

Many states that have legalized retail sale of cannabis have been adding social equity provisions to try to redress inequities experienced by low-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.

Los Angeles County (LA) has taken the approach of increasing cannabis outlet licensure and employment for low-income and BIPOC communities. But what is the impact on social equity of location of licensed and unlicensed outlets over time?

In this study, lead by ADAI research scientist Caislin Firth, PhD, locations of both licensed and unlicensed cannabis outlets in LA were identified between February-April 2019 and again from March-April 2020. Dr. Firth and colleagues calculated the number and type of outlets by socio-demographic characteristics of census tracts (race/ethnicity, education, unemployment) using the 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-year estimates.

Some of the findings:

  • Over 2019-2020, licensed outlets in LA increased by 20% and unlicensed outlets decreased by 52%
  • In 2020, more licensed outlets were in tracts with:
    • Majority white residents
    • Majority of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree
  • In 2020, more unlicensed outlets were in tracts with residents who were:
    • Low-income / high poverty
    • Predominantly Latinx
    • High unemployment
    • In single female-headed households

This neighborhood-level analysis goes beyond previous work by tracking changes in both licensed and unlicensed outlet locations over time. These results can help inform discussions on how cannabis social equity programs at the local level may impact potential applicants and their respective communities.

However, more information is still needed to ensure that social equity programs are implemented in ways that effectively work to reduce and redress harms to low income and BIPOC communities.

Citation: Firth CL, et al. Licensed and unlicensed cannabis outlets in Los Angeles County: The potential implications of location for social equity. Journal of Cannabis Research 2022;4:18. [doi: 10.1186/s42238-022-00120-5]