Los Angeles’ marijuana social equity program latest to be challenged

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A Michigan man challenging marijuana social equity programs across the country as unconstitutional has filed another lawsuit against a local licensing program, this time against Los Angeles.

Kenneth Gay, a principal of Variscite, a California-based corporation, lives in Michigan, where he was arrested and convicted for a marijuana offense.

According to a lawsuit filed Nov. 30 in federal court in Los Angeles, Gay submitted an application for a license in Los Angeles under that city’s social equity program.

As of Oct. 24, city regulators had not verified his equity status for a Dec. 8 license lottery.

Under current L.A. law, to be eligible for a permit under the city’s social equity program, an applicant must have a “prior California Cannabis Arrest or Conviction” and either be low income or live in an area identified as disproportionately affected by policing.

Gay’s suit claims he “satisfies all three requirements, except that the relevant events occurred in Michigan rather than California.”

The suit also contends that since Los Angeles “enacted laws and regulations that provide a preference to California residents over out-of-state residents for the Lottery,” the city’s social equity program violates the U.S. Constitution’s dormant commerce clause.

The dormant commerce clause prohibits state and local governments from granting preferential treatment to local citizens over residents of other states.

Gay filed similar lawsuits challenging equity programs in New York state and Sacramento, California.

In New York, Gay’s lawsuit has paused licensing in part of the state.

His legal challenges follow a landmark ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this fall that a residency requirement in Maine’s medical-cannabis regulations violated the dormant commerce clause.

Legal analysts predicted that that ruling would expose social equity program with residency requirements to lawsuits such as Gay’s.