Many in the marijuana industry are looking to Oakland, California as a pioneer on addressing the lack of diversity among those who work for or own cannabis companies.
The city’s Equity Permit Program requires that at least half of all new medical marijuana licenses are issued to poorer residents who either have been convicted of a cannabis-related crime or live in areas that have historically seen high cannabis-related arrests. Oakland considers itself “the first city in the nation to require employment opportunities for those hardest hit by the ‘War on Drugs.’”
National crime data shows that minorities were arrested more often for cannabis-related crimes than their white counterparts, despite the fact that they report using the drug less.
Due to state laws, Oakland’s regulations could not be copied in Denver where the industry is dominated by white men. The city does not conduct or review background checks for those who want to enter the marijuana industry, but instead leaves that to officials with Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, said Ana Bia Campbell, public affairs program administrator with the Denver Office of Marijuana Policy.
In Colorado, those convicted of a felony have to wait five years before applying to open a store. If that felony was drug-related, they must wait 10 years.
Attempts to change the rules for ex-cons have been unsuccessful in past legislative sessions.
Trevor Hughes, a Denver-based journalist for USA Today, recently reported marijuana shops in Oakland reflect the community’s diversity and stand in “stark contrast to stores in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington where the face of marijuana is white and middle class.”
California is expected to start allowing the recreational sale of marijuana next year. It’s likely Oakland will apply the rules around its Equity Permit Program to those seeking recreational licenses because “regulators developing the recreational rules are basing them in large part on the existing medical marijuana system,” Hughes reports.
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