Pubdate: Wed, 30 Mar 2016
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2016 East Bay Express
Author: Nastia Voynovskaya


In the Wake of the War on Drugs, State Laws and Industry Culture Are 
Preventing Black and Latino Folks From Entering Oakland's Burgeoning, 
Hugely Profitable Cannabis Market.

On a Tuesday evening in January, people gathered at SoleSpace in 
downtown Oakland for a panel titled, "Shades of Green: The State of 
Cannabis in California for People of Color." Supernova Women -- a 
recently formed organization led by female entrepreneurs of color 
working in cannabis -- organized the event, and it brought out an 
avid, intergenerational crowd of mostly Black and brown folks with 
varying levels of interest and experience working in the industry.

The impetus behind the gathering was the fact that currently, Oakland 
finds itself at a critical juncture in the roll out of its regulatory 
policies regarding medical marijuana. While there are only eight 
licenses for cannabis dispensaries in the city at present, on April 
26 the city council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve eight 
more licenses per year, starting this year, creating additional 
opportunities for entrepreneurs who have been operating in the 
underground market to go legit.

The city is also considering implementing other cannabis licenses 
that would legitimize grow operations, delivery services, edibles and 
topicals companies, testing labs, and other marijuana-related 
businesses that are currently operating in a legal gray area.

The women behind Supernova are Sunshine Lencho, an attorney who 
offers legal services to cannabis businesses; Amber Senter, chief 
operations officer at Magnolia Wellness, one of Oakland's eight 
existing dispensaries; and Nina Parks, who owns Mirage Medicinal, a 
cannabis delivery service based in San Francisco. The three women 
formed an alliance after crossing paths at various networking events 
for cannabis entrepreneurs, where they said they often found 
themselves to be the only women of color in the room. Concerned with 
social justice and the welfare of their communities, they founded 
Supernova as a way to advocate for people of color in the industry at 
a time when the legal weed market's major players -- both in Oakland 
and nationally -- are overwhelmingly white and male.

But they face serious challenges in their goal of integrating the 
medical cannabis industry. Advocates note that Blacks and Latinos 
have been and continue to be disproportionately criminalized in all 
aspects of the US criminal justice system, from racial profiling in 
arrests to harsher sentencing in the court system.

As a result, people of color who operate underground marijuana 
businesses are understandably wary about coming out of the shadows.

While many white cannabis entrepreneurs pride themselves in being 
outlaws, for many people of color, blatantly breaking the law is not 
an option. "I would never be able to say to my brother or sister to 
be an outlaw with the police, when I know the experience of what an 
interaction with police can lead to," said one of the speakers, 
Lanese Martin, who is Black and is the founder of CannaBizWatch, a 
watchdog organization advocating for a progressive cannabis policy.

The audience met her statement with knowing nods.

Despite recent reforms, law enforcement statistics show that police 
and prosecutors continue to target people of color for drug crimes in 
hugely disproportionate numbers.

Blacks and Latinos are convicted for marijuana-related felonies -- 
such as possession with intent to sell, which is still a felony in 
the state -- at much higher rates than their white counterparts, even 
though studies show that Black and white people use marijuana at 
about the same rates. According to the report "Crime in California," 
which was released by the state attorney general's office in July 
2015, 18 percent of arrestees for marijuana-related felonies in 2014 
in the state were Black even though, according to the 2010 census, 
only about 6 percent of California's population is Black. Meanwhile, 
white people constituted 31 percent of arrestees even though they 
made up more than 40 percent of the state population in 2010.

The costs associated with launching a legal cannabis business also 
present disproportionate challenges for people of color.

Depending on the type of marijuana business one wants to start, the 
total costs needed to pay for product, branding, operations, and 
licensing fees can range from several thousand to several hundred 
thousand dollars.

And because marijuana is still federally illegal, taking out a small 
business loan is not an option -- which presents a significant 
barrier to entry for those who don't have disposable income or cash savings.

Another major factor that could prevent many cannabis entrepreneurs 
of color from going legit is Senate Bill 643, one of the bills that 
make up California's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act 
(MMRSA). SB 643 allows state and local licensing boards to deny 
cannabis business licenses to people with felony records, including 
those with drug felony convictions. As a result, a large number of 
folks who were ensnared by the War on Drugs are at risk being 
systematically excluded from a burgeoning, hugely profitable new market.

According to the BuzzFeed report "How Black People Are Being Shut Out 
of America's Weed Boom," published last month, only about 1 percent 
of cannabis club owners nationwide are Black. In Colorado, where the 
weed industry has produced a huge tax revenue surplus for the state, 
galvanized its tourism industry, and earned an estimated $700 million 
in profits in the first year of legalization -- 2014 -- there is only 
one pot shop owned by a Black woman among hundreds that have opened.

In short, white men, who are the least likely to be targeted by the 
US criminal justice system for drug crimes, despite the fact that 
they use drugs as much as people of color, and who are the most 
likely to have access to personal savings and private investors, have 
effectively cornered the lawful marijuana market in states that have 
legalized it. And the people of color who have been instrumental in 
supplying the nation's underground marijuana market for decades 
remain marginalized.

Nonetheless, Lencho, Senter, and Parks remain hopeful about Oakland 
and their prospects for increasing the number of people of color in 
the local medical weed industry.

They note that cannabis regulation in Oakland is still in its nascent 
stages, and the legal marijuana industry here is still being 
established. They created Supernova to galvanize people of color 
interested in joining the legal cannabis industry, and to help the 
people who have historically been growing and selling cannabis or 
making topicals and edibles underground.

But advocates say that if the institutional barriers prohibiting the 
very people most heavily affected by the War on Drugs are not 
addressed, and people of color who have historically earned income in 
the marijuana trade in the underground market are not able to 
legitimize their businesses, then a similar fate to that of the tech 
industry will befall the cannabis industry. The enormous profits that 
cannabis will generate in California in coming years will mostly 
enrich our society's most privileged group.

"We decided that it was important that we form an organization that 
filled what was clearly a need to bridge the gap between women of 
color who are active in the industry and our communities," said 
Lencho, in a separate interview following the panel. "It's hard for 
us to focus on the business case for cannabis when, at the same time, 
people who look like us are still going to jail in the hundreds here 
in Oakland. The public perception is that cannabis is this thing that 
is about to be regulated, and it's a free-for-all here in California, 
and Oakland is like the Amsterdam of the West. But the reality is 
very different depending on what you look like. It was important for 
us to bring a voice to that and also create a space where that can be 

According to the 2013 ACLU study, "The War on Marijuana in Black and 
White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests," the 
War on Drugs was a major factor in causing the US prison population 
to increase by 52 percent between 1990 and 2010. In addition, the 
number of people arrested for marijuana offenses during that time 
period soared by 188 percent.

But arrests and incarceration for marijuana impacted some communities 
more than others.

In 2010, Black people were 3.72 times more likely to be arrested for 
marijuana possession than their white counterparts -- a disparity 
that increased by 32.7 percent between 2001 and 2010.

Of course, all those drug arrests failed to curb the use of 
recreational marijuana.

According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 39.3 
percent of Americans reported having used marijuana in their 
lifetimes, and 17.4 percent of them had used it the past month.

And, as the ACLU found in its study, Blacks and whites use cannabis 
at roughly the same rates.

Yet despite the similarities in marijuana consumption rates, the 
disparities in arrests remain pronounced on a national scale.

In the American West, according to the ACLU, the disparity is not as 
wide, though it is still substantial: Blacks are twice as likely to 
be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

Although Proposition 47, approved by California voters in 2014, 
downgraded six nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, 
selling any amount of marijuana remains a felony. Marijuana 
cultivation is also still a felony for people who are not cannabis 
patients, and even those who have doctors' recommendations are only 
allowed to grow for personal use and are prohibited from distributing 
the plant to others. The reason that some of California's weed 
delivery services and grow operations are legal is because state law 
allows exceptions for licensed, non-profit cannabis patients' 
collectives to provide marijuana-related services to their members.

And because state laws are vague about how those collectives should 
operate, a wide variety of cannabis businesses have popped up that 
are technically in compliance with the state law, though often 
unregulated by local governments, as is the case in Oakland.

Endria Richardson, one of the speakers from the Supernova panel and a 
staff attorney at the nonprofit Legal Services for Prisoners with 
Children, argues that California's new medical marijuana regulations 
will block large numbers of Blacks and Latinos from prospering from 
the state's rapidly expanding medi-weed industry.

SB 643, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law last October as 
part of MMRSA, states that individuals with felony convictions for 
the sale, possession for sale, manufacture, transportation, or 
cultivation of a controlled substance can be denied licenses by the 
state to distribute medical pot. Richardson said that state officials 
could use MMRSA, which takes effect in 2018, to shut people out of 
the medical pot industry simply because they engaged in growing or 
selling marijuana before it was legalized and were caught and convicted.

Under MMRSA, individuals who want to open cannabis businesses will be 
required to obtain licenses from the state as well as the city in 
which they're operating.

Traditionally, the City of Oakland has only prohibited people from 
obtaining medical cannabis dispensary licenses if they have been 
convicted of serious or violent crimes -- but not marijuana-related offenses.

But when the state sets up its licensing regime by 2018, even if the 
City of Oakland doesn't use drug-related felonies to deny people 
licenses, the State of California could still do so -- prohibiting 
those individuals from operating even if the city government approves.

These state regulations could feasibly override Oakland's more 
progressive policies, which could erect a significant barrier to 
entry for people who have been criminalized by the War on Drugs.

The state's more conservative stance on felony drug convictions 
reflects the US Department of Justice's eight guidelines for state 
regulation of medical marijuana.

These official guidelines stipulate that states are responsible for 
preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used a 
pretext for trafficking other drugs, as well as preventing revenue 
from state-regulated marijuana sales from going to criminal 
enterprises. But when applied on a practical level, this policy is 
contradictory because it denies people the right to sell marijuana 
legally simply because they've sold marijuana before it was legalized.

And this policy implies that people who have been involved in 
marijuana sales are involved in other criminal activity, which is not 
always the case.

If state licensing agencies fail to take into consideration the 
details of the felony conviction, how long ago it was, and what the 
person has done since then to rehabilitate him or herself, then the 
implementation of MMRSA could bar a significant number of people who 
were unfairly targeted during the War on Drugs -- many of them Black 
and Latino -- from operating cannabis businesses legally, according 
to advocates. If that were to happen, the distribution of wealth from 
Oakland's cannabis industry would not be equitable. "You basically 
will see communities that haven't been as impacted by prohibition 
gaining the most from legalization," Richardson said.

Because landlords and employers can still use felony convictions to 
discriminate against people for jobs and housing and, until recently, 
drug-related felonies barred many Californians from receiving food 
stamps and cash assistance, Prop 47 represented a crucial step in 
helping perpetrators of victimless crimes move on from their pasts.

But in terms of making the medical marijuana industry more equitable, 
Richardson said it hasn't gone far enough.

"There are still a lot of drug-related crimes that are still 
felonies," said Richardson. "Possession with intent to sell is still 
a felony, and that can be charged just based on the amount of drugs 
you had, whether you had paraphernalia on you, or whether the drugs 
you had were separated into separate baggies rather than having one 
baggy, or if the officer just felt like you were gonna sell them."

Richardson added that the state's medical cannabis industry will 
continue to remain segregated until there are no barriers to 
licensing for people with felony convictions. "I think that's the 
most important thing that can even the playing field a little bit more."

Felicia Shaw, who owns the topicals company Mystic Herbal Body Care 
and is an instructor of topical applications at Oaksterdam 
University, echoed Richardson's sentiments in a recent phone 
interview. Shaw, who is Black, began as an underground marijuana 
grower before transitioning into making cannabis-infused topicals for 
pain relief, which she now sells at dozens of cannabis clubs 
throughout the Bay Area. Though her business complies with state and 
local laws, she said that, given the history of criminalization of 
Black and Latino people for drug possession, she understands why 
cannabis entrepreneurs of color would not feel comfortable coming 
forward to apply for licenses, let alone lobbying local and state 
governments for more equitable policies.

"I'm sure you know Black people and Mexican people have been the ones 
being arrested and have served the most harsh time for selling weed 
over the years," she said. "So you would think, 'Wow, this is an 
opportunity we would all jump on.' But it's actually the opposite 
because we get targeted [by the police] a lot more for pull-overs and 
stuff like that."

Shaw also said that many Black and Latino marijuana business 
operators are afraid to expose themselves to local and state 
licensing authorities because of the drug war's impact on their 
communities. "Why would we want to come out of the darkness and into 
the light where we can get even more picked on?"

She continued, "Because people of color are usually targeted by 
police, I keep [my business] low-key. I make enough money so that I 
can pay my bills and enjoy my life and still be free."

Claudia Mercado, an Oakland entrepreneur who was born in Mexico and 
raised in Oakland's Fruitvale district, said in an interview that 
many Latinos with working-class backgrounds similar to hers have 
justifiable fears about entering the legal cannabis business.

"If you think about the black market in East Oakland, it's going to 
be hard for people to come out because there's a cost to going 
legit," she said. "And if you've been making decent money to get by 
on the black market, why do you wanna go legit, what's the incentive?

If you've been persecuted for so long, what is going to give you the 
confidence to step out? Who's going to guarantee you're not going to 
get busted, and that you're gonna be okay if you've lived your life 
in fight or flight mode?"

Mercado has an MBA degree from Mills College and has built her 
business acumen working in corporate America. She said this has 
helped her navigate the legal gray areas of the medical marijuana business.

She now works in marketing and business development for the topicals 
company Sweet Releaf, and she recently incorporated a patients' 
collective with another colleague in San Francisco to help her 
legitimize her grow operation.

The purpose of the Supernova panel was to educate the public about 
the legal issues at play surrounding cannabis regulations and the 
options available for people to enter the industry.

But it also turned into an informal networking event, with people 
volunteering different skillsets related to their work in the 
cannabis industry. One woman asked if anyone wanted to pool resources 
to rent a commercial kitchen for making edibles and topicals.

People offered resources for legal advice and leads on warehouse 
spaces for cultivation. Though the networking portion of the event 
was unplanned, organizers Senter, Lencho, and Parks welcomed it.

According to the founders of Supernova, networking is a vital part of 
running a cannabis business. Entrepreneurs often help one another by 
sharing information on upcoming legislation and city council 
meetings, business advice, and safety precautions for dealing with 
large amounts of cash and lucrative product.

"You can't Google how to run a dispensary," said Andrea Unsworth, who 
owns the cannabis delivery company StashTwist and is also the 
chairwoman of the Bay Area chapter of the cannabis entrepreneurship 
organization Women Grow. Unsworth, who is Black, said that opening a 
delivery service was one way for her to operate legally, given 
Oakland's current cap of eight storefront dispensary licenses.

But running her business has not been easy, as she often fears for 
the safety of her drivers and questions whether law enforcement would 
be on her side if something bad were to happen.

But attending networking events can be costly. While the Supernova 
panel was free, according to Lencho, the admission price to attend a 
mainstream cannabis conference is typically in the hundreds of dollars.

As a result, the attendees at cannabis networking events tend to be 
overwhelmingly wealthy and white.

Those who don't have the time or money to attend them are essentially 
missing out on vital sources of information.

"I've been going to local hearings in Berkeley and Oakland," said 
Lencho, "and the only reason you know they're happening is because 
you're tapped into the industry and people are reminding you about 
the schedule of events, and you have people who are telling you about 
the upcoming conferences. If you have no idea that this is happening, 
which I think is the case with the vast majority of people living in 
this area, you're going to wake up in 2018, you're going to hear 
about these licensing applications, and you're going to be like, 
'Wait, what? I didn't even know this was going on.'"

Cannabis networking events also provide entrepreneurs with the chance 
to make business connections: Topicals makers and growers can meet 
dispensary owners, for instance, which would improve their chances of 
getting their products in clubs.

If networking events are structured in such a way that is not 
accessible to low-income folks, many people of color will effectively 
be barred from the industry.

"I'm not assuming that all people of color are low-income, or living 
check-to-check, but if you've been around weed [on the underground 
market], chances are you're not very affluent," said Claudia Mercado. 
"And finding the time to attend those meetings is very time-consuming."

While felony convictions likely will prohibit many people from 
becoming licensed to start their own cannabis businesses, one would 
think that a way for them to still profit from the cannabis industry 
would be through getting a job at a local dispensary. According to 
Andrew Silva, a San Francisco attorney who works with local cannabis 
businesses to make sure they're in compliance with state and local 
laws, dispensaries typically pay above the minimum wage.

"People with felonies are currently being employed by dispensaries, 
and it's a really good resource for them, because they pay well," 
said Silva, who used to make a living working at cannabis 
dispensaries before starting his law practice.

However, the cannabis entrepreneurs of color interviewed for this 
story echoed the sentiment that most of the cannabis clubs in Oakland 
- -- with the exception of places like Purple Heart, which is 
Black-owned, and Magnolia Wellness, which has a reputation for having 
a diverse staff -- and around the Bay Area tend to have 
majority-white staff, even in entry-level positions.

Shaw, owner of Mystic Herbal Body Care, said that since she began 
selling her product at local dispensaries in 2009, she has seldom 
encountered people of color in managerial positions at dispensaries 
- -- a trend she often sees reflected in the racial makeup of the rest 
of the staff. Shaw said that she has applied to numerous dispensary 
jobs that she considered herself obviously qualified for -- since she 
is an experienced grower, topicals maker, and business owner -- but 
she has frequently been rejected.

She has often wondered whether racially biased hiring practices were 
the reason.

"It's very disturbing, and it bothers me a lot, because Black and 
Mexican people might not be able to start the business, but we sure 
need jobs," she said. "And it would be great to do something in the 
cannabis industry, where you don't have to get drug tested and you 
get to deal with something that's so fun and be part of this whole movement.

It kind of breaks my heart. ... Unless it's a Black-owned club, you 
usually don't see any Black people working there, not even budtenders."

Debby Goldsberry, executive director of Magnolia Wellness, said in an 
interview that she prides herself in the fact that her staff at 
Magnolia, including its six-person leadership team, is diverse in 
terms of ethnicity, age, and gender. Because West Oakland, where 
Magnolia Wellness is located, has a large population of people of 
color, Goldsberry said that many of her employees started out as 
patients, which is a central reason why her staff reflects the 
community Magnolia serves. "If you're hiring right and you're 
job-posting right, you're creating jobs that match your community -- 
that's the fix," she said.

However, Goldsberry has run into roadblocks when attempting to reach 
unemployed people from Oakland's most vulnerable communities. Many 
nonprofits that help people find employment are prohibited from 
advertising dispensary jobs because those nonprofits receive federal 
funding, and cannabis is illegal under federal law. But Goldsberry 
said she's working with the City of Oakland to develop solutions to 
make sure her job postings reach Oakland's economically marginalized 

"We'd like to see the medical marijuana program employ previously 
unemployed Oaklanders," she said. "I think it'd be incredible if we 
looked at the unemployment metrics of Oakland in a year or two years 
and found that the numbers have gone significantly down because we've 
employed people into the medical marijuana industry."

As for the City of Oakland, it requires that at least 50 percent of a 
dispensary's staff be Oakland residents, and that half of those 
residents come from census tracts with high unemployment rates.

However, the city can't legally hold private businesses accountable 
for racially diverse hiring.

What needs to change, then, is the cannabis industry's culture, 
advocates say. According to Claudia Mercado, because of the insular 
nature of cannabis networking events and the lack of outreach from 
white-owned cannabis businesses to local communities, implicit biases 
go unchecked when it comes to hiring.

"If you think about the tech industry, it's a good ol' boys club," 
said Mercado. "The weed industry is the same. If you're not besties 
with the dispensary owners, or you don't fit the profile of the 
budtenders who buy the weed, they could easily discriminate [against] you."

The Oakland City Council is scheduled to determine on April 26 
whether to approve eight more dispensary permits per year, as well as 
new license types that would help regulate cannabis delivery 
services, edibles kitchens, testing labs, and commercial grow 
operations, creating potential opportunities for entrepreneurs of 
color to enter the local market.

But with venture capitalists and tech moguls interested in cannabis' 
profitability (billionaire and early Facebook investor Sean Parker is 
a central backer of California's recreational, adult-use 2016 ballot 
initiative, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana 
Act), there will likely be well-connected, moneyed individuals vying 
for Oakland's limited number of storefront dispensary licenses. 
According to a study by Arcview Market Research, the nationwide legal 
cannabis industry grew in 2014 from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion -- a 
figure that has certainly piqued the interest of wealthy investors.

But City of Oakland officials are currently pursuing different 
options for making sure that the city's cannabis industry is as 
equitable as possible under the current laws. "As of last quarter, 
2015, 50 percent of all dispensary employees are Oakland residents," 
said Gregory Minor, one of Oakland's Assistant City Administrators 
who handle cannabis policy. "But it's part of a broader conversation 
of providing equity, employment opportunities for Oakland residents, 
and then, also, specifically for victims of the War on Drugs. And to 
make sure they're not left out of this growing industry, we're 
looking at a variety of measures, whether it's mandates for local 
hiring or incentive-based tax relief if you hire former parolees or 

One option the city is pursuing to increase equity in the cannabis 
industry is to create pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals 
to get medical marijuana jobs. "We'd like to create a pipeline for 
those who were incarcerated by the drug war to have opportunities -- 
career opportunities -- in this industry, to the best of our ability, 
so that we can repair the damage done by the misguided federal War on 
Drugs," said Assistant City Administrator Joe DeVries, who is also 
helping craft Oakland's marijuana regulations.

Under Measure Y, which passed in 2004 (and was renewed in 2014 as 
Measure Z), a portion of Oakland taxpayer money goes to social 
programs intended to prevent recidivism in formerly incarcerated 
people, and the city already has a pool of former inmates to work 
with through employment organizations such as Oakland Unite. "If we 
can take this industry that's offering well-paid jobs to workers who 
don't necessarily have to have college degrees, we can take these 
folks who were sent to jail as part of the drug war and help -- you 
know, since we already work with this population in the city and the 
city taxpayers pay for that work," said DeVries. "We're going to be 
meeting with the people who do that work to see if we can plug them 
directly into jobs with these new businesses by giving these 
businesses tax credits to hire [formerly incarcerated individuals]."

DeVries and Minor are also pushing to create a policy to give tax 
incentives or licensing fee reductions to cannabis businesses that 
employ formerly incarcerated individuals, especially those who have 
been imprisoned for cannabis offenses. They said the value of these 
incentives would be determined by how long the formerly incarcerated 
individual stays employed at the business -- a stipulation meant to 
encourage businesses to invest in training.

But while, as Minor pointed out, these policies look good on paper, 
the city must be adequately staffed to track cannabis industry hiring 
practices, and to make sure specific companies are in compliance with 
city regulations and incentives. This is a major challenge in 
Oakland, a city with limited resources.

If the city council approves policies to regulate cannabis businesses 
that are not dispensaries -- such as grow operations, delivery 
services, testing labs, and edibles and topicals manufacturers -- 
there will be considerably more opportunities for entrepreneurs of 
color, especially if there is no limit on licenses for marijuana 
businesses that are not brick-and-mortar storefronts. Richardson, the 
attorney working with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 
suggested that the city should look into adopting policies that would 
encourage people to start cannabis businesses with alternative 
ownership models, such as worker-owned cooperatives. "Those can 
decrease the barriers to ownership for people who have less capital 
to start with and open up their own shops," she explained.

But above all else, the biggest factor that could limit the same 
people the War on Drugs preyed upon from entering the legal cannabis 
business is the potential ban on people with drug-related felonies 
from obtaining state licenses.

If folks from low-income areas who have traditionally supplemented 
their incomes with marijuana sales aren't able to enter the industry 
legitimately, then once marijuana is fully legalized for adult 
recreational use, there will be major, widespread job loss in the 
underground economy as the burgeoning mainstream marijuana industry, 
dominated by whites, takes over the market.

And according to Columbia University professor Sudhir Venkatesh, a 
scholar on gang activity who was quoted in the April 2015 article 
"The Racist End to the War on Drugs" on, people who are 
displaced from the underground cannabis industry may be pushed into 
more dangerous sectors of the economy, resulting in an uptick of 
other illegal activity, which would further fuel the prison industrial complex.

But not all of Oakland's policies on cannabis have been written, and 
the city is examining marijuana regulations with what Karen Boyd, 
spokesperson for the City Administrator's Office, described as a 
"lens of equity."

When SB 643 takes effect in two years, it will empower the state to 
deny licenses to people with felony drug convictions. But in the 
meantime, DeVries and Minor said that they do not recommend that the 
City of Oakland deny licenses based on marijuana-related felonies.

However, it will ultimately be up to the Oakland City Council to 
determine the specifics of Oakland's new licensing requirements when 
it meets on April 26. Minor and DeVries also said that they plan to 
further review the city's background check requirements for cannabis 
licenses to address policies that could disproportionately affect 
communities of color, which they believe were unfairly criminalized 
during the War on Drugs.

Because MMRSA won't be fully implemented until 2018, local 
regulations will take precedence until the state rolls out its own 
licensing process. And because Oakland has historically been a leader 
in medical marijuana policy, DeVries and Minor said that they are 
confident that if the City of Oakland approves enough cannabis 
licenses under its more progressive policies before 2018, it is 
possible that Oakland will influence the way state policy is 
implemented in regards to felony drug convictions. "If we have a 
robust licensing system in place, then the state should honor that," 
said DeVries.

Andrea Unsworth of StashTwist said that it is also helpful that 
Oakland has a culture of conscious consumers who understand the value 
of supporting businesses owned and staffed by people of color and women.

And according to the organizers of Supernova, it is a vital time for 
cannabis entrepreneurs of color to join forces and advocate for their 
interests to change the industry's culture, and lobby for more 
equitable state and local regulations. Since I met Lencho, Senter, 
and Parks at their first panel at SoleSpace in January, Supernova has 
hosted several other educational panels that are free and open to the 
public in order to better educate local communities of color about 
their rights, job opportunities, and upcoming legislation.

"Once the regs come out, we're going to read them, we're going to 
analyze them, we're going to report them to our constituents," said 
Lencho. "And we're going to do the feedback to the people writing the 
regulations so they can understand, and they can have a record of how 
these things are impacting us. So five years from now we're not going 
to turn around and be like, 'How did that happen?'"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom