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article imageCannabis equity in California aims to level the playing field

By Karen Graham     Oct 22, 2018 in Business
On September 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Cannabis Equity Act. In many ways, the act recognizes the failed efforts of the war on drugs and the devastation cannabis criminalization had on minority and underserved communities.
California lawmakers allocated $10 million in initial funding for the act, and it will go into effect next year, magnifying programs already up and running in San Francisco and Oakland.
“This barrier to traditional funding places individuals without access to capital at a disadvantage. Starting a business is made even more difficult for individuals with a criminal record. Minorities have been disproportionately affected by the nation’s War on Drugs,” according to the bill’s legislative analysis.
This act, also known as SB 1294, allows local jurisdictions, who have established their own cannabis equity programs, to apply for funding in the form of grants. The money can be used for business loans, capital improvements or licensing fee waivers.
The grants will also provide technical assistance, and administration to support the development of local equity programs and their participants applying for cannabis permits and licenses.
Anne Genovy smokes marijuana in Vancouver  Canada  as nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came...
Anne Genovy smokes marijuana in Vancouver, Canada, as nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came to an end
Don MacKinnon, AFP
Senator Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardenia, authored the Equity Act bill, and it was passed by a majority in both the Senate and Legislature with no stated opposition.
“The California Cannabis Equity Act is an important step toward creating an equitable cannabis industry in California,” said Rodney Holcombe, Office of Legal Affairs, Drug Policy Alliance, who sponsored SB 1294, reports Leafly.
“As we know, access to capital and technical assistance are crucial for anyone wanting to create a business in this space. Unfortunately, persons most harmed by cannabis prohibition and generational poverty often lack the support needed to be successful.”
Oakland at the forefront of cannabis equity
Oakland, right across the Bay from San Francisco, has an equity program that started in 2017 and its success can be partly attributed to Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks. It was through her support at the local level that paved the way, allowing minorities to gain access to the cannabis industry.
Marijuana packaged for transportation and sale.
Marijuana packaged for transportation and sale.
Department of Justice
There are two ways to participate in Oakland's equity program - by direct investment into an equity eligible candidate’s business - or by providing an incubator space for a member of the equity program for three years.
Now, because of the success of the Bay Area cannabis equity programs, Los Angeles and Sacramento have patterned programs similar to those in San Francisco and Oakland - offering criminal records expungement, reduced rent or fees, and technical assistance to qualifying populations.
The equity program is spreading across the United States with Massachusetts' Cannabis Control Commission announcing an approved list of qualified vendors to provide training materials and services as part of the nation’s first statewide Social Equity Program.
How will Canada handle cannabis equity?
With cannabis legalized in Canada, many are now wondering why a half-million Canadians should continue being punished with criminal records for something that’s no longer a crime, reports the Globe and Mail.
Smoking Pot
Smoking Pot
DigitalJournal.com File Photo
And yes, Canada was also guilty of racially-biased enforcement of pot prohibition. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted this last year when he shared a story about his brother with a young black man facing possession charges at a town hall in Toronto.
“My dad had a couple of connections, and we were confident that my little brother wasn’t going to be saddled with a criminal record for life," Trudeau told the man. “One of the fundamental unfairnesses of this current system is that it affects different communities in a different way.”
Proponents of cannabis equity in Canada point out that the people getting rich in the pot industry don't look like the ones who have been punished the most for building the industry in the first place.
And the numbers make it very obvious - In the U.S., only 4.3 percent of cannabis businesses are black-owned, while in Canada nearly all the licensed producers and recreational retailers are run by white men.
About the closest Canada has come can be found in Manitoba, and it is only a hybrid model and not really an equity program at all. The province will give approval preference to retailers with First Nations partnerships. And that is not much, especially when Canada needs to start real cannabis-equity programs.
More about War on drugs, Marijuana, California, cannabis equity law, Canada