Well, this is quite cool: The Oakland City Council has voted to use the process for granting legal marijuana licenses as a means of addressing the racial injustices of the War On Some Drugs. Oakland was already the first (and so far only) city in the country to set aside 50 percent of medical marijuana and cannabis business permits for people who’ve been convicted of marijuana crimes. In a revision passed unanimously Tuesday, the measure was revised to address data showing that while blacks and whites make up roughly equal parts of Oakland’s population, blacks have faced much higher arrest rates for pot.
The revised policy will redefine eligibility for the city’s “equity permits”: in addition to reserving them for people arrested within the city for pot crimes going back to 1996, the permits will prioritize
residents living at least 10 of the past 20 years in police beats torn apart by the war on drugs. Their income must also be below 80 percent of the city’s average median income […] The 21 police beats were chosen because they had about 150 or more marijuana arrests over the past 20 years.
Data shows the disparities. In 2015, the cannabis arrest rates for African Americans was 77 percent, 15 percent for Hispanics, 4 percent for whites and 2 percent for Asians, according to the city’s report. African Americans, Hispanics and whites each make up about 30 percent of Oakland’s population.
According to Darlene Flynn, the city’s Race and Equity Director, the highest disparity in arrests was in 1998, when up to 90 percent of people arrested for pot were black.
“The data shows that for over two decades, black and brown residents were arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses at disparately high rates, while largely white cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and distributors who were not operating entirely above board either, flourished under changing laws designed to accommodate the burgeoning industry,” Flynn said.
The city is backing up the eligibility rules with cash, too, earmarking $3.5 million in tax revenue from cannabis businesses to offer no-interest loans to help holders of the equity permits to get their businesses up and running.
There’s already some controversy over a last-minute amendment to the new permit rules that was intended to encourage development of locally owned businesses; that provision requires general permit applicants to have lived in Oakland for three years. Some cannabis business owners say they may have to close up shop under that rule, which seems rather poorly thought out since it apparently applies to existing permit holders, not just new applicants. It’s nice, though, that the regulation would shorten the three-year requirement for permit holders who offer free rent or real estate to an equity permit holder.
Even so, a few business owners testified that the residency requirement would force them to move their businesses elsewhere.
Sascha Stallworth, co-founder of Kamala Cannabis Edibles, moved her family to Oakland from Los Angeles last year and was planning on signing a new building lease next week for her business. Now, she’s not so sure.
“If I end up with a five-year lease in a place I can’t operate out of that doesn’t work for anyone,” Stallworth said. “This is a break in our road which we didn’t anticipate.”
For heavens sake, they should have included an option to grandfather in existing permit holders. If a blogger who doesn’t even use the stuff can think of that, what’s up with the Oakland City Council, dude? What are those people smoking?