What, you say, Oakland is on its way to becoming a marijuana Mecca? You mean the city with some of the highest arrest rates of black and brown folks in the country is changing its ways?
Short answer: Oakland is on the cusp of something radical.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, presumably as marijuana smokers lay snuggled in their beds with visions of dank nugs dancing in their heads, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to approve sweeping new medical marijuana expansions that would combat the racial equity issue that has continually plagued people of color. This effectively was a declaration of allyship with those who have historically been victimized by the War on Drugs.
Even more poignant is the council’s decision to give half of its new cannabis business licenses to applicants who live in parts of Oakland that have a reputation for having higher marijuana-related arrest rates. This could potentially aid in employing those whose criminal history would bar them from ever working with cannabis.
The initiative essentially mandates that applicants who live in those neighborhoods be required to maintain at least a 51 percent ownership in the business. A second amendment, which was added on Wednesday, includes people who had previously been arrested in Oakland and incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses.
This initiative is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it’s likely the only one of its kind in the nation. As far as councilwoman Desley Brooks knows, Oakland is the first city in the United States to present this “Equity Amendment ordinance in respect to marijuana.” Having authored the amendment, she made deliberate efforts to ensure it contained strong racial equity provisions.
“When you look at cannabis industry across the nation,” Brooks told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday, “it’s dominated by people who are white and they make money. And the people who go to jail are black and brown. I wanted some parity. There needs to be equity in this industry.”
The amendment is intended to bring the existing black market into the regulatory light, covering everything from cultivation to finished products. It will add eight medical marijuana dispensary permits each year while allowing for a projected 30 cultivators, 12 delivery businesses, five distributors, five transporters, two testing facilities and 28 manufacturing businesses.
In addition, the council voted to add an unlimited number of marijuana-related type businesses to operate within city limits, giving credence to the growing trend of delivering pot to medical card holders on bikes and “Uber” type delivery services.
All this means big bucks for the city of Oakland, which is another reason why this initiative is so popular. Last year the dispensaries in the city generated roughly 4 million in taxes according to Greg Minor, an assistant to the city administrator. This initiative could potentially double that number, while also adding the potential for some 90 other businesses. That’s a whole lot of revenue that could be (and should be) dispersed in a way that re-invests resources back into the city as a whole.
Adam Steinberg, the business manager at Flow Kana a marijuana collective that stands to financially benefit from the new rules (and whose ads you may have seen on the sides of buses and on billboards recently) was also at this early morning meeting. He told NBC Bay Area he thinks it’s a good idea to give back to “a community that’s been negatively impacted by the ‘War on Drugs’ and our nation’s failed drug policies.”
Even though he is a white guy, Steinberg said he thinks the move by the council is the right one in terms of racial justice.
But not everyone present at the meeting shared his sentiment.
Many were vocally critical of a late-agenda add by Brooks that requires half of the business licenses be issued to applicants living in certain parts of the city identified as having higher marijuana-related arrest rates. These parts of the city are typically within East Oakland, which is nationally known for its frequent bursts of crime.
Brooks downplayed any worries that giving business licenses to those who have been arrested for pot would yield any harm.
“Sixty-seven percent of people in Oakland voted for marijuana to be a low-level priority,” Brooks said to those present, referring to changing local (and federal) priorities when it comes to dealing with the criminality of cannabis.
She also cited the most recent news, where a coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker and backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (as well as the nation’s leading marijuana advocacy groups) says it has collected 600,000 signatures for marijuana legalization, well more than the 365,000 needed for the July 5th deadline.
It’s becoming increasingly clear. There is a very good chance California residents will vote for legal recreational marijuana by this November. How will you vote?
My name is Petey Wheatstraw, also known as Charles Stevens. I’m an avid marijuana smoker, writer, devoted father and non-profit minion– not necessarily in that order. A Chicago native I’ve lived off and on in the Bay Area since 1996. Seven years ago I finally settled here to capture the changing face of our communities.