Oakland Launches ‘Drug War Reparations’ Program

By Victoria Kim 05/24/16

The program will reserve half of all new MMJ permits for areas in Oakland that have been hit hard by marijuana convictions and arrests.

Oakland Launches ‘Drug War Reparations’ Program

The city of Oakland, California just approved a new program to tip the scales in favor of Oaklanders who have been hit hardest by the drug war. Under the Equity Permit Program, passed last week, people who live in East Oakland, or who were incarcerated for a marijuana-related offense, will have a unique advantage over the rest of Oakland. However, critics have pointed out a number of issues with the new policy.

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously to approve the program, which will reserve half of all new medical marijuana permits for those who have a recent marijuana conviction, or those residing in six Oakland police beats, areas where there have been a higher concentration of marijuana arrests.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who represents many of the East Oakland police beats that will benefit from the program, said she proposed the "equity permits" to provide some form of economic reparations to those disproportionately affected by the drug war.

She noted that out of the eight marijuana dispensaries currently operating in Oakland, just one is owned by an African American. “Everybody ought to have an opportunity to compete,” she said.

The city will issue eight new permits a year, with every other permit going to the disadvantaged. But critics have voiced a number of problems with the program, one being that it excludes areas like West Oakland, which have also been hit hard by drug war enforcement. They say the program should benefit more neighborhoods, not just the six equity police beats that make up a fraction of the city’s 57 total police beats.

Others say the policy could give rise to corruption, allowing those with money to buy residents living in equity police beats or marijuana offenders to access permits. 

The Supernova Women, an organization representing women of color in the cannabis industry, is also opposed to the equity program, saying it would further exclude black women and other minorities, according to the East Bay Express.

The program does have its flaws, but some are encouraged by the city officials' willingness to address a problem that's crippled not just individuals, but entire communities. "The war on drugs has criminalized black and brown communities," said one Oaklander, George Galvis, at a city council meeting. "Now that (marijuana) is becoming legalized there’s a whole line of white men that are about to get rich.” 

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