The wave of legal marijuana markets sweeping over the country is becoming a vital part of ending America’s long and destructive drug war. Simply decriminalizing marijuana has the potential to take a major tool of oppression away from police forces which target minorities. Extract manufacturers in Northern California have even turned an old prison into a giant concentrates factory in an awesome symbol which suggests that maybe the drug war has finally been won, and the winner is drugs.
But the City of Oakland is trying to use legal marijuana has an instrument to not only end the drug war, but reverse its effects as well. A proposed program would favor drug convicts when handing out medical marijuana licenses in particular neighborhoods, as reported by Leafly.
This “equity permits” system would issue half of its licenses to establishments that are majority owned by a victim of the drug war. To qualify as a victim of the drug war, one would have to have been convicted of selling marijuana in Oakland in the last ten years, or live in one of Oakland’s most heavily policed neighborhoods.
“Oakland is the first jurisdiction in the world to recognize the disproportionate harms of cannabis prohibition by building it into their regulations,” Amanda Reiman, marijuana law and policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Leafly. “There is a wide recognition of these disparities, but Oakland is the first to take on institutionalizing a response.”
The move, if implemented, would also speak to the lack of diversity in the legal marijuana industry. A Buzzfeed article recently estimated that only 1 percent of cannabis dispensaries are owned by a black person. A poll in Washington found that in 2015, only 2.7 percent of people with a financial stake in pot shops were black (compared with 3.6 percent of the population) and only 3.6 percent were Latino (compared with 9.5 percent of the population).
Many states and municipalities bar drug convicts from obtaining medical and recreational marijuana licenses. Given that drug laws disportionately target black people and Latinos (black people are four times more likely than whites to get a marijuana possession ticket in California), these restrictions also unfairly target minority business people.
“Policies in the U.S. have been designed to allow certain people to flourish and others to perish,” said Reiman. “In America, involvement with the criminal justice system is typically a barrier to success too high for most to see over, let alone climb over… We have a chance with the newly legal cannabis industry to flip the script, not only by providing opportunities specifically to those most often denied them, but by showing the world that people are not their pasts.”
Photo via Flickr user Jesse Richmond