California 'Equity Programs' Aim To Level Playing Field For Minority Ganjapreneurs

By Victoria Kim 01/18/18

The "equity programs" offer people of color who have been impacted by the War on Drugs the opportunity to have an early stake in the legal marijuana industry.

a businesswoman and a businessman looking over paperwork

While the legal cannabis industry finally settles itself in California, there’s a lot to consider in this state where nearly 40 million people reside.

One is the prospect of leveling the playing field for men and women of color (POC) who wish to get in on the ground floor of the budding industry. 

Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland have established such programs aimed at helping POC residents. 

Sacramento’s program serves as a sort of “small business support center,” as the Washington Post reports. POC businesses, or businesses that “incubate” POC businesses (i.e. help them grow), are offered perks such as a speedier application process.

The Bay Area boasts two equity programs, one in San Francisco and the other in Oakland. 

San Francisco’s program gives guidance to POC entrepreneurs by helping them sort through the rules of the industry, offering free inspections and a priority licensing process. A fund that has not yet been utilized will help provide no-interest loans to qualifying entrepreneurs. City Supervisor Malia Cohen calls it “restorative justice.” 

Supporters say these equity programs represent a small but significant step in the right direction. People who are familiar with anti-drug war talking points are aware of the disturbing, and very revealing, disparity between the rates of drug-related arrests and incarceration of POC and whites. Not to mention the racist roots of the drug war.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported in 2013 that black Americans are arrested for cannabis possession at more than 3.5 times the rate of whites, despite the fact that “marijuana is used at comparable rates” by both groups. 

“Just as with the larger drug war, the War on Marijuana has, quite simply, served as a vehicle for police to target communities of color,” said the report. 

Legalization is a victory for drug policy reform activists, but as the Post stated, “legalization appears to be creating a racial gap of its own.”

In the words of Greg Minor, who manages Oakland’s program, “The folks who are profiting don’t look anything like the people bearing the brunt of the war on drugs.” 

To qualify for Oakland’s program, the individual must have a cannabis-related conviction from the past 20 years, or live in police beats with a “disproportionately higher number of cannabis-related arrests,” as outlined on the official website of the City of Oakland. These are among other prerequisites, like income level.

The program reserves half of new cannabis permits for equity businesses. Of the eight marijuana businesses scheduled to open in Oakland this year, four will be approved through the equity program.

“This application process is part of the City’s groundbreaking Equity Permit Program that minimizes barriers to cannabis licensing for Oakland residents who have been the most victimized by the war on drugs,” reads the city’s website.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr