Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Race To Top, One Toke At A Time

http://www.citylab.com; February 5, 2018


Hello Everyone:

DACA recipients are breathing a sigh of relief thanks to the United States Supreme Court.  The high court decided on Monday not hear the Trump administration challenge to ending the executive order issued by President Barack Obama.  This means that DACA recipients can continue to file renewal applications.  If you are eligible for relief under the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival act, make sure you maintain you eligibility and get that application into uscis.gov.  Alright, onto today's subject: California's race to the top of the cannabis pile.

Recently, the city of San Francisco announced that it would expunge or reduce the sentences for all cannabis-related criminal convictions, misdemeanors, and felonies, going back to 1975.  This is good news for the thousands of people who are serving time or served time for pot-related crimes.  They are now eligible to have the cases reviewed; either be released from state prison or apply for housing, jobs, and other basic essentials that they were previously barred from because of their past drug convictions.  

Brentin Mock reports in his CityLab article "California's Race to the Top on Cannabis," "In essence, San Francisco is resetting the clock on the War of Drugs, at least for cannabis.  The city is expanding upon Proposition 64, the state law that went into effect this year that makes amnesty for weed-related crimes a condition for legalizing cannabis in California."  In the interest of full disclosure, possession and use of marijuana is still illegal on federal property, this means you have to get rid of your pot before you go to the airport.  Airports are federal property.

San Francisco's amazingly progressive ordinance is not the only one attempting to incorporate racial equity into the newly legalized cannabis landscape.  Cities across the "Golden State" and other states are increasing the "racial equity quotient" in a variety of ways, "in what looks like a race to the top seeking true racially and economically inclusive outcomes."  While civic leaders figure out a way how to make real racial equity happen (citylab.com; July 21, 2017; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018) in policy making, the newly legalized pot experiment is serving as a test case, "and is already proving itself sticky enough that cities are almost competing to be the most weedfully woke."  

Oakland started the trend last year when it intiated it cannabis equity assistance program (Ibid; April 27, 2017), intended to help people who either lack the capital to start their own business or are restricted from doing so because of past convictions.  Mr. Mock reports, "On the same day that San Francisco made its announcement, Oakland revealed the names of the first class of people to receive permits for opening cannabis dispensary [www2.oakland.com; Jan. 31, 2018; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018] companies under that equity assistance program."  Eight permits were iniatially awarded; six went to companies owned by individuals who met the program's low-income threshold (less than the median income for Oakland: $56,300 per one-person household) or who had weed-related criminal convictions dating back to 1996.  The majority of these companies have pledged to staff part of their enterprises with formerly incarcerated people.  One of the benefits of this program is that there will be 29 pot-related business locations across the city how will not have to pay rent and have their security costs covered for three years.

It is not just the bluer-than-blue city of San Francisco that is implementing this program.  Blogger's hometown of Los Angeles also instituted a cannabis social equity program (blog.margolinlawrence.com; Nov. 20, 2017; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018) that "prioritized business permits for people with low incomes, who have lived in area area ravaged by the drug war, have criminal records (because of past weed prohibition), and who plan to hire at least half of their workforces from local residents."  Further, Oakland and L.A. are making permits a priority for individuals who may not meet the criteria but are willing to finance or lease space to applicants who fully qualify for this program.  Oakland has set a goal of awarding equality permits for existing cannabis companies that already have a foothold in the market (Brentin Mock adds this aside, "some companies have been operating under the state's medical marijuana law, which has been in effect for years").  Los Angeles wants "to do a two-to-one match between equity businesses and the grandfathered companies they need to catch up with."

Last November, the California state legislature approved the creation of a Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equaity program (sacramento.granicus.com; Nov. 14, 2017; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018).  The eligibility requirements are similar to equity programs in San Francisco, L.A., and Oakland in that permits are designated for people who live below the federal poverty levels and have been affected by the drug war.  Like the above cities, Sacramento is helping to expunge the records of would-be business owners who have previous drug crime convictions.  Sacramento is also offering business and technical assistance to permit applicants.

East of the wild blue west, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland also enacted equity programs for their states' medical marijuana permitting process.  Brentin Mock adds, "though there have been problems (citylab.com; May 4, 2017; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018) with the roll-outs (philly.com; June 29, 2017; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018).

Hood Incubator (hoodincubator.org; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018) is an Oakland-based organization that works with formerly incarcerated individuals and people from the poorest African-American and Latino communities to get them ready for opportunities in the cannabis industry.  In mid-January, the organization announced a $1 million partnership with cannabis technology company Eaze (bizjournals.com; Jan. 18, 2018; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018).  Hood Incubator will work with the California-based company to expand the scope of its work, including "expungement clinics and business workshops, as well as well as developing more progressive policies for cannabis-business-friendly cities and states to adopt."  One of their first joint (slight pun intended) ventures is the establishment of a Cannabis Equity Strategy Manifesto "that will curate and build upon the best practices from jurisdictions that currently have an equity program, to create a model policy for all future cities and states looking to get into the cannabis market."

Hood Incubator's co-founders and directors Lanese Martin and Ebele Ifedigo are concerned that the incentives, offered by some cities, may spur companies to help minority-owned businesses for all the wrong reasons.

Lanese Marting told CityLab,

Some people aren't partnering (with equity applicants) because this is the most viable thing for their business, they're partnering because they want to get a license which means there is an ulterior motive.

Heavy regulation of the pot market at the state and city level aside; "and maybe the federal level [citylab.com; Jan. 11, 2018; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018] if Senator Cory Booker has it his way," there still need to be real measurable growth in revenue and profit in this sector.  The 2017 Cannabis Insdustry Report (newfrontierdata.com; date accessed Feb. 27, 2018) from New Frontier Data reported,

The legal cannabis market was worth an estimated $6.6 billion in 2016, and annual sales are projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% to reach more than $24 billion by 2025.

These projections are only based on the states where pot is legal. 

It is quite startling to think about how quickly the cannabis market has grown "despite the heavy-handed regulations and civil rights controls evinces the potential of this industry to not only be a gamechanger for health and capital, but for race relations."  What is truly startling is the lengths a lot of people are willing to go to properly address past and present racism-or, at least, get some really good pot.