With sales of recreational cannabis becoming legal in a few weeks, many Californians have been asking questions about where they’ll be able to buy it, where they’ll be able to smoke it and why on God’s green, weed-filled Earth they still have to use cash to get it.
Meanwhile, all I want to know is whether the black and brown people who sold cannabis during the dark years of the war on drugs, and went to prison for it in disproportionate numbers, will benefit from the newly legal, multibillion-dollar industry.
Or – and I shudder at the thought – will they become victims all over again, boxed out by wealthy, white investors who will invade low-income, minority neighborhoods to start businesses, jack up property values and hire outsiders?
On Tuesday, the City Council can make it easier for minority business owners to claim a stake in the capital city’s marijuana industry.
These are weighty questions to which Proposition 64 provided only weak answers. As with many things in the initiative that voters approved last November, the authors left the real work of righting past wrongs up to local governments.
Already, Oakland has adopted an ordinance that requires that entrepreneurs from neighborhoods most affected during the drug war get first dibs at a limited number of marijuana business licenses. San Francisco and Los Angeles also have discussed similar, so-called equity proposals in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council has a chance to do even more by approving a package of ordinances that would make it easier for minority business owners to claim a stake in the capital city’s fast-moving local marijuana industry.
One plan would establish a small business support center to offer technical assistance and mentoring to minorities, women and veterans who are interested in running cannabis businesses. It would be a two-year pilot program, run by a city-approved third party, in hopes of creating a viable incubator program for new business owners.
Another plan would get rid of requirements for criminal background checks for all but the most important stakeholders of cannabis-related businesses. The idea is that poor people with less-than-clean records would be more eager to apply for jobs.
Sure, this sounds risky. But if one of the goals of having a legal industry is to discourage an illegal one – particularly the dangerous grow houses that have popped up in Sacramento – locking thousands of people out of steady jobs and financial security isn’t the way to do it.
But the most meaningful plan before the City Council on Tuesday would make it cheaper to get into business in the first place by lowering the fees for cannabis operating permits and manufacturing licenses, the latter by creating a tiered structure based on the type of business and revenue.
This would benefit not only minorities, but small business owners in general.
Marijuana is going to be an expensive industry. With fees set by the state and local governments, the annual price tag for a cultivation license could top $80,000. The same goes for other types of pot businesses.
And just last week, the state issued regulations that will allow large-scale grows and large businesses to obtain as many cultivation licenses as they can afford. That opens the door for undercutting the smallest entrepreneurs.
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The proposals before the City Council would go a long way toward slowing the rise of Big Marijuana, and ensuring that Sacramento’s industry rolls out in a more equitable fashion than it is poised to do now.
In too many cities in California, this isn’t discussed enough. A statewide effort demanding reparations from the drug war is bubbling, but isn’t quite cooked yet.
Sacramento has a chance to break barriers and show others the way to do the right thing. Now is the time.