U.S. cannabis sales are expected to exceed $50 billion by the year 2030. And by all measures, the legalization of marijuana should positively impact state economies and increase the country’s overall GDP. But despite the favorable step forward, there’s still one problem—barriers for entry have made this burgeoning business largely inequitable.

According to a 2017 survey by Marijuana Business Daily, 81 percent of marijuana business owners in the U.S. were white, and just 4.3 percent were Black. That same year, African Americans were still being arrested and charged for marijuana posession at four times the rate of white Americans despite comparable marijuana usage. 

“For too many years, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” says Kimberly Mucherson, co-Dean of Rutgers Law School. On Tuesday, the New Jersey-based institution announced a six-month Certificate in Cannabis Law and Business beginning in January 2023.

News of the latest program at Rutgers Law comes a few short months after the state of New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years of age and older, and began accepting applications for cannabis retail licenses through its newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commsion (CRC). With a deliberate goal of evening the playing field throughout the Garden State, the decision was made to prioritize licenses for people from designated target communities, those with cannabis convictions (expunged or not), and for minorities, women and disabled veterans.

“The licensing structure specifically creates priority for potential licensees who come from those communities that have been so deeply impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” Mucherson tells EBONY. “This means that there is space in this industry for many Black folks and others who can now benefit from an industry that in too many states has only benefitted those who already have significant resources.”

Mucherson sees Rutgers’ newly announced program as an extension of that mission. The non-credit program brings together faculty from across Rutgers’ many schools with industry experts and guest speakers. In a press release shared with EBONY, Rutgers describes the course as an opportunity to provide business owners with a thorough grounding in the rules and regulations of New Jersey’s cannabis industry as they pertain to every aspect of running a business, ensuring that people entering the market have the information they need to run legally compliant businesses.

“The social equity components of New Jersey’s licensing scheme are deeply in line with the commitments of Rutgers Law School. We have expansive clinical and pro bono programs, and Centers that focus on providing services to the people who live in the cities in which we are rooted,” says Mucherson. “ As the State University, we feel compelled to help the legislature build a cannabis industry in New Jersey that helps to right historical wrongs as much as possible.”

The certification program is the first one the school has developed for students who are not actively studying or practicing law. The full six-month certificate costs $2,695, and individual modules are available at a cost of $600 - $850 dollars, depending on the class.

“We are the State University of New Jersey and we want to be accessible to all of New Jersey residents,” says Mucherson of the minimal price tag. “We were very deliberate in setting a price point that was reasonable while also seeking out ways to subsidize the cost for those for whom even the $3,000 price tag is too much.”

A limited number of scholarships will be available for people who have received, or who plan to apply for, Social Equity business licenses through New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.