By Nadia Perez
The Greenlining Institute and UC Berkeley are issuing a new cannabis report, “Cannabis Equity Policy” by researcher Leslie Valencia. The report will be published on Valencia’s website (https://www.lesliev.net/) on June 28.
This research comes three months after the Oakland City Council modified Oakland’s groundbreaking cannabis Equity Permit Program, supported by an analysis of the program by the city’s Department of Race and Equity.
Valencia says she views the city’s program, which she examines in her study, as a model example of the first step other municipalities can take in attempting to address the issue of equity of access to the cannabis industry.
Prior to the changes that were approved in March, the city’s Equity Permit Program reserved half of the cannabis permit programs for residents who were convicted on marijuana-related charges or who lived for at least two years within six police beats in East Oakland that saw a high concentration of pot-related arrests.
Now criteria have been expanded to include police beats with high pot arrests in parts of West Oakland and the Fruitvale district.
In the first phase, at least 50 percent of permits will go to equity applicants who either: lived in one of the police beats for 10 of the last 20 years, and has an income below 80 percent of the city’s average median income; or were arrested in Oakland and convicted of a cannabis-related crime prior to 1997.
Non-equity applicants who wish to apply during this phase will be given priority if they agree to serve as “incubators” for approved equity applicants, which entails providing free real estate or rent.
The second phase of the permit program will start after $3.4 million in cannabis business tax revenue is collected, which will be used to offer no-interest loans and other assistance to equity applicants.
Once that phase begins, there will be no restrictions on who can apply for a cannabis permit. Valencia’s research also details the disproportionate impact of the War on Drugs on communities of color.
“What is unique to Oakland is that there was a parallel, illegal but tolerated business environment for other people involved in the cannabis trade,” she wrote in the report.
“Following the California legalization of medical cannabis in 1996, the Oakland cannabis advocacy community, which is predominantly white, began experimenting semi-openly with various cultivation, manufacturing and distribution business models.”
She documents the growth and impact of the Cannabis Industry across the country, recommending that cities create “economic opportunities (in) the cannabis industry, specifically for low-income communities of color that may have been – either directly or indirectly – negatively affected by the war on drugs.”
According to Valencia, the continued growth of the industry, if not addressed, could further negatively impact vulnerable communities.
“The regulations in California set a five-year ban on large cultivation, which is considered over 10,000 sq. ft. Once the ban expires, well invested corporations will be able to easily open large cultivation sites while paying fewer taxes than their smaller counterparts. This will make it harder for independent businesses to stay open when having to compete with these large companies,” she said in an interview with the Post.
Access to real-estate and housing are also a concern. A study found companies concentrating in low-income areas, while wealthy neighborhoods had the power to exclude these types of businesses.
“If commercial real-estate prices in a district spike, housing prices will as well. Introducing these businesses into neighborhoods that are historically poor or disadvantaged will cause the cost of living there to rise,” she said.