The Wild West of California’s billion dollar cannabis industry is getting less and less wild by the day. Last week the state passed new laws to restrict dispensary sales and set up a new government organization to monitor medical marijuana. This week, we’re getting our first taste of just how that new state office might change the way the state does cannabis business.
The bill creating the new organization says that the state “may deny the application for licensure or renewal of a state license if” the individual has ever received a “felony conviction for the illegal possession for sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance.” This is according to the San Francisco Chronicle and High Times.
This provision is troubling for a number of reasons. For one thing, it changes the dynamic of the industry that has served it for two decades now: the fact that it is a legitimate field which is open to people with a criminal past. Nearly every other industry in the economy pushes felons out. But because of its relative lack of regulation, medical marijuana has been a haven for smart, reformed people willing to work hard while applying some of the skills they learned in a criminal enterprise toward the wellbeing of patients in need.
This has been not only beneficial to the felons, but to the medical marijuana consumers in the state who enjoy cannabis grown with the know-how of experienced, seasoned professionals. Few people have been growing and selling marijuana longer than those who engaged in it as a criminal act before it was so widely legally commodified. Enforcing the felon restriction could also serve to feed the black market cannabis business. “If we don’t create opportunity for them in the legal cannabis industry, they will continue to participate in the illicit cannabis industry,” Steve DeAngelo, Harborside Health Center’s owner, told the Chronicle.
The NAACP is also showing concern that the move would create a racial gap in an industry that has thus far been open to all races and ethnicities, given that African Americans and Latinos in the state receive felony convictions at disproportionately higher rate than white residents.