Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jul 2016
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Orson Aguilar
Note: Orson Aguilar is the president of The Greenlining Institute, a 
public policy organization based in Berkeley, Calif. He wrote this 
for Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive 
magazine. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC


Slowly but surely, marijuana prohibition is ending. Legalization can 
help undo the racist impact of the war on this widely used drug - but 
it could also help perpetuate injustice.

Four states and the District of Columbia have passed measures to 
legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, and many more allow 
use for medical purposes. Those numbers will almost certainly grow 
this year, with my home state of California likely leading the way.

But state governments, as well as the burgeoning legal marijuana 
industry, need to get this right.

The campaign to ban marijuana in the 1920s and '30s was overtly 
racist, targeting African-Americans and Latinos, and enforcement of 
marijuana laws has consistently come down hardest on communities of color.

While blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, 
blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for it. 
Felony arrests show even worse disparities.

These disparities have taken a staggering toll in black and Latino 
communities, saddling millions with criminal records and crippled 
employment prospects.

If marijuana is to be legal, simple fairness demands that the doors 
of this new industry be open to those hurt the most by prohibition.

This must start with the laws and regulations under which marijuana 
will be produced, distributed and sold. First, rules must not 
arbitrarily exclude those whose only crime was getting caught doing 
something we're now making legal. There's no logical reason to bar 
someone from the legal cannabis trade whose only criminal record is a 
nonviolent marijuana-related offense.

Many other obstacles can conspire to keep people of color out of this 
emerging business.

High application fees for licenses and requirements for wildly 
excessive amounts of capital (up to $1 million in some states) form a 
major barrier, as can licensing processes so complex, expensive and 
politicized that they require lobbying firms to help navigate the fine print.

Restrictive local zoning rules add more obstacles, giving the 
advantage to those with money and connections.

While the available data is limited, it points to huge disparities. 
One recent article noted that only one of more than 800 Colorado 
licenses for marijuana stores and medical dispensaries went to a black woman.

Recently, the city of Oakland, Calif., made a bold move to bring 
diversity to the city's licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, 
reserving half of new permits for those who've been targeted by the 
war on drugs. The specifics caused some controversy, and other 
jurisdictions may want to try different approaches, but the impulse 
behind Oakland's ordinance is exactly right.

We'll also need to examine other issues related to legal marijuana, 
such as criminal record expungement for those with marijuana arrests, 
public health impacts on the poor and how to use new tax revenues equitably.

State and local governments as well as the cannabis industry itself 
need to take this seriously. It would be both tragic and ironic to 
build a lucrative, nearly all-white industry on the backs of millions 
of Latinos and African-Americans whose lives were ruined by a failed drug war.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom