Public administration upholds four pillars of administrative practice: economy, efficiency, effectiveness, and social equity. The question arises, however, how do administrators balance effectiveness and social equity when implementing policy? Can the values contributing to administrative decisions be measured? This study leverages the expansion of medical cannabis programs in the states to interrogate these questions. The awarding of dispensary licenses in Pennsylvania affords the ability to determine the effect of social equity scoring on license award decisions, relative to criteria that represent the other pillars. The results show that safety and business acumen were the most important determining factors in the awarding of licenses, both effectiveness concerns. Social equity does not emerge as a significant determinant until the second round of licensing. This study then discusses the future of social equity provisions for cannabis policy, as well as what the findings mean for social equity in public administration.
This article has been conditionally accepted at Public Administration Review (April 6, 2022).