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California Passes Cannabis Equity Law to Help Those Hurt by War on Drugs

California Passes Equity Bill Jerry Brown Cannabis Now
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Politics

California Passes Cannabis Equity Law to Help Those Hurt by War on Drugs

California’s Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a bill into law that will create an “equity” program for the state’s legalized industry, aimed at justice and inclusion for those communities hardest hit by marijuana prohibition. He also signed a law that will erase past convictions for possession of cannabis in quantities that are now legal.

The Cannabis Equity Act, signed by Gov. Brown on Sept. 27, is aimed at advancing California’s aspiration for equal opportunity in the fast-growing newly legal economic sector of legal cannabis. Each jurisdiction in the state that has established its own local equity program will now be able to apply for part of a special fund to be created by the law.

Introduced as Senate Bill 1294 by Steven Bradford, a state senator and Democrat from Gardena, the law allocates $10 million for the fund to be overseen by the Bureau of Cannabis Control. The fund will assist localities in providing interest-free loans, grants and technical assistance to entrepreneurs and employers from the communities that most suffered under the long years of cannabis prohibition.

The passage of the law was hailed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council. UFCW’s executive director James Araby said in a statement quoted by the Sacramento Bee, “When voters approved Proposition 64, they wanted the new industry to be open and inclusive, accessible and representative,” Araby said. The new law will assist “individuals disproportionately affected by the criminalization of cannabis.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of California was similarly enthused. In a statement, ACLU of California said the law “will reduce barriers to entry and ensure that all Californians have a fair chance at becoming successful in the rapidly growing cannabis marketplace.”

Equal Opportunity in the Cannabis Sector

Upon introducing the bill back in May, Sen. Bradford explained its aims in a statement: “Following the 2016 voter approval of Proposition 64, legalizing adult-use cannabis, our cities and state will soon reap the economic benefits of this growing industry. The concern is, what about those who were convicted of cannabis-related charges, even within the last two years? What about entire communities who have endured devastating, generational impacts from the war on drugs? SB 1294 will address these issues and ensure that those who want to participate have real opportunities to join and thrive.”

In addition to making funds available to localities with equity ordinances, SB 1294 requires the Bureau of Cannabis Control to establish a task force to provide guidelines and recommendations for the implementation of a statewide equity program.

“Currently, there are no state programs addressing the barriers and challenges faced by those attempting to enter this unique industry,” said Bradford in his May statement.

“If people of color with financial capital and high business acumen are having difficulty gaining licenses, one can only imagine the struggles individuals with zero capital and previous convictions are faced with. Although California isn’t the first state to legalize the adult use and sale of cannabis, we can be the first state to do it right — by including those who were once punished, but can now contribute.”

Municipal Equity Programs Moving Slowly

So far, four municipalities in the state have established equity programs: Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco. These have not been without controversy. The San Francisco Examiner reported Sept. 24 on the slow progress in that city. San Francisco passed its equity law late last year, but 117 applicants seeking to enter the city’s cannabis equity program are still waiting for approval. All equity applications remain under review by the city’s Office of Cannabis. None have yet been sent on to the city’s planning department for the next step in the approval process.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported in June that, across the bay in Oakland, things have been similarly slow-paced. No promised loans to cannabis businesses from a $3.4 million fund established by Oakland for that purpose have yet reached their intended recipients. Perhaps leadership from Sacramento on the question will start to make the difference.

Law Passed to Erase Old Marijuana Convictions

On Sept. 30, Brown also signed related legislation into law, Assembly Bill 1793, which will allow past cannabis convictions to be recalled, dismissed or sealed if the cannabis quantities in question would no longer violate the law under the Adult Use Marijuana Act (AUMA), passed by California voters in Proposition 64 of 2016.

The AUMA legalized possession of up to 28.5 grams of herbaceous cannabis and up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis for those 21 or older. AB 1793 will require the California Department of Justice to review state criminal records to determine which past convictions are eligible for recall or dismissal. A deadline of July 1, 2019 is established for the review to be completed. Prosecutors will have the opportunity to challenge a dismissal if the convict “presents an unreasonable risk to public safety.” The courts will be required to reduce or dismiss any convictions that are not challenged by July 1, 2020.

Brown Also Vetoed Legislation That Would Help the Needy

In the flurry of legislation that Brown signed before the Sept. 30 deadline for California’s legislative session, he also refused to sign a few bills that would have helped communities in need.

For example, Senate Bill 829, which would have relieved the tax burden on medical marijuana providers, and once again opened space for “compassionate care” providers in California, was vetoed by Brown.

Brown also vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents to bring medical cannabis to their children to use at school. The bill was focused on helping students with epilepsy who take non-smokable cannabis medication.

TELL US, do you think the cannabis industry should try and help people hurt by the War on Drugs?

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