Michigan is offering significantly discounted licensing fees for anyone planning to set up a marijuana business within 19 cities that were disproportionately affected by prohibition.

Anyone that has lived in one of the cities for the past five years can receive a 25% reduction in licensing costs. They can enjoy a further 25% off if they have a marijuana-related conviction, and an additional 10% if they have been registered as a primary caregiver.

It is part of a new social equity program from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The scheme covers Albion, Benton Harbor, Detroit, East Lansing, Ecorse, Flint, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Inkster, Kalamazoo, Mt. Morris, Mt. Pleasant, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Niles, Pontiac, River Rouge, Saginaw and Ypsilanti.

“I believe that our Social Equity Program will lead the nation in accomplishing the social equity objectives that Michigan voters assigned us last fall when they passed the adult-use marijuana proposal,” said MRA executive director Andrew Brisbo.

Earlier this week, Sen. Jeff Irwin launched a bill that seeks to automatically expunge the criminal records of 235,000 Michiganders convicted of marijuana possession, while it would allow anyone convicted of possession with intent to distribute to also apply for expungements, even if they exceed the current limit of more than two misdemeanours or one felony.

The social equity program is taking things even further by essentially offering to make reparations to individuals and communities blighted by cannabis convictions.

The MRA has conducted focus groups and it ran an online survey in order to shape the framework of the program. It highlighted cities with an above average level of marijuana convictions, and from that group it chose 19 that have 30% or more of the population living below the federal poverty level.

It will send a team into each of the communities to explain the available discounts before the MRA begins taking applications on Nov. 1, 2019. Residents of these cities will be offered one-on-one assistance in completing the licensing application.

The MRA will also put them in touch with other state agencies that can help with matters like business registration, hiring staff, tax requirements, environmental compliance laws and health and safety training.

It has also recruited medical marijuana companies and specialist attorneys to help mentor applicants from these communities as they find their feet within the industry.