Oakland, CA – Oakland is beginning an experiment that can be considered both laudable and questionable. As cannabis businesses are set to spring up across the city, following California’s legalization of recreational cannabis, Oakland is providing reparations to victims of the drug war.
They’re not doling out money, though. They’ll be doing it through the normally mundane permitting process, in accordance with ordinances passed in March.
“The ordinances require the city to give at least half of all available cannabis permits to individuals who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense in Oakland and earn an income less than 80 percent of the city average. “Equity applicants” can also qualify if they lived in an Oakland neighborhood for 10 of the last 20 years that saw a disproportionately high number of cannabis arrests.”
Since permitting began in May, 72 applications have been received, and, somewhat surprisingly, almost half of them (31) are equity applicants.
There was plenty of doubt and controversy about the program, with many saying it wouldn’t work and others calling it unfair government overreach. And now, some would-be equity applicants are finding it impossible to sign up due to what they call unrealistic qualification requirements.
Another part of this strategy involves incentivizing “general applicants” to help out “equity applicants,” which is certainly strange in that a business owner would be providing a large benefit to his or her competitor.
“Someone who doesn’t qualify under either definition — a “general applicant” — can move up in line by giving an equity applicant at least 1,000 square feet of free rent through an “incubator” relationship.”
The motives of Oakland lawmakers and their constituents who supported the move are certainly noble, and a welcome sign that governments can recognize the injustice of the drug war.
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For decades, individuals and families have suffered under government’s senseless prohibition crusade. The drug war was not started to aid humanity, but was spawned of racism, suppression of dissent, and political corruption.
Only the police state and corporate entities such as the prison-industrial complex, the alcohol industry and Big Pharma benefit from locking people in cages for using “illicit” substances. Cannabis prohibition is particularly cruel and unjust, as it denies people the miraculous healing power of this medicinal plant.
The brunt of prohibition’s injustice has fallen on minority communities. Even though cannabis use is about the same among white and black ethnicities, blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession.
Recognizing this, Oakland intends to give an advantage to those who’ve been victimized for decades. But even with its noble motivations, do drug war reparations amount to government overreach? Is it rationing, or unfair denial of business opportunity to “general applicants”?
The plan will surely be tested, including when applicants must apply for state licenses.
“The city permit is only the first step in legally operating a pot business in California. Starting next year, pot businesses that have local permits must apply annually for state licensing. It’s unclear whether equity applicants with criminal backgrounds will be approved for state licenses. State law authorizes agencies to deny licenses to some applicants with criminal backgrounds.”
Equity program or not, there is a “labyrinth of regulations” in Oakland for those seeking to get into the cannabis business in Oakland. However, the city is very appealing because “it’s one of the few places in California that allow every type of operation — from laboratory testing and cultivation to delivery and dispensary.”
Even though Oakland’s foray into drug war reparations could amount to overreach, it is a symbol of the dramatic turnaround that has taken root with respect to the war on drugs.