Pubdate: Fri, 29 Jul 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Rachel Swan


Oakland's new medical cannabis laws, intended to right the perceived 
wrongs of the U.S. war on drugs, are the focus of a fierce political 
fight at City Hall.

Although the City Council voted unanimously to approve the laws in 
May - creating a permit system that will bring Oakland in line with 
new requirements for regulating the state's multibillion-dollar 
cannabis industry - several council members say the system they 
created is not a done deal.

The main sticking point is a provision that reserves half the city's 
medical cannabis permits for residents who were jailed on marijuana 
convictions in Oakland within the past decade, or who have lived for 
at least two years within six police beats in East Oakland where pot 
arrests were concentrated in 2013. To obtain one of these "equity 
permits," an applicant must own at least a 50 percent stake in the 
proposed business.

The intent of supporters, led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks, is to 
help people whose lives were disrupted by drug-related prosecutions 
and incarceration. Critics, while praising the goal, say Oakland's 
approach could hurt those people instead.

It could "fail to promote, and in many cases actively compromise, the 
city's socialjustice and equity goals," the group Supernova, which 
advocates for women of color in the cannabis industry, warned in a 
letter to the council. The problem, the group said, is that the 
permit system is so restrictive it could choke off Oakland's 
flourishing pot trade, the jobs it could bring and tax dollars it 
could raise, even as Californians prepare to vote in November on 
whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

"We want the laws to be successful," said Matt Hummel, chair of 
Oakland's Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who thinks the equity 
permit program is too limited. "But the big concern is, are we 
actually doing what we're trying to do?"

Backers say the equity program is needed to bring more low-income 
blacks and Latinos into what they call a predominantly white 
industry. They note that of Oakland's eight licensed medical pot 
dispensaries, just one is run by African Americans, and none by Latinos.

The program's staunchest proponents are Brooks and Councilman Larry 
Reid, whose districts cover the territory where people who want to 
enter the marijuana business would receive the preferential treatment.

"You're talking about an industry of predominantly folks that don't 
look like me who are trying to drive this process," Reid, who is 
African American, said at the council's July 7 Rules Committee 
meeting, where Councilmen Dan Kalb and Abel Guillen asked for a 
public hearing to propose changes to the laws. "And their interest is 
not in my best interest."

Making it legal

Officials are counting on the new permit systems to bring hundreds of 
underground pot businesses into the open, creating what could be an 
employment bonanza and tax windfall for Oakland. Cannabis businesses 
are required to pay 5 percent of their gross receipts to the city, 
and under the new laws, every new business must hire half its 
workforce from Oakland and one-fourth from the city's economically 
depressed areas.

"We've known for a long time that Oakland has quite a number of 
unregulated cannabis businesses," said Joe DeVries, an assistant to 
the city administrator who helps oversee the Cannabis Regulatory 
Commission. "These laws give certainty to those businesses that they 
won't be shut down. And now they'll be allowed to grow, providing tax 
revenue and jobs for the city."

A too-narrow permitting process could undermine this potential, say 
commission members and others who want to expand it.

One pot advocacy group, the Oakland Diversity and Equity Cannabis 
Coalition, is pushing to broaden the equity permit program. In June, 
the coalition asked the City Council to issue equity permits to 
residents in 13 police beats besides the original six, including 
several in West Oakland, some in Fruitvale and some in other parts of 
East Oakland. There are 57 police beats throughout the city.

Past pot convictions

The group also asked that equity permits be given to people convicted 
of pot crimes more than 10 years ago, and to people jailed in cities 
beyond Oakland - and that permits be given not only to those who were 
convicted, but to their family members as well.

The proposed changes are scheduled to go before the council's Public 
Safety Committee on Sept. 27.

Brooks, who chairs the committee, has resisted attempts to change the 
equity permit provision, calling them a veiled campaign to shut 
African Americans and Latinos out of the industry.

"The council has one opportunity to get this right, and not continue 
the systemic racism in this burgeoning industry that has allowed some 
to be advantaged while others are left out," Brooks wrote to the 
council on July 7, the day of the Rules Committee meeting. Brooks was 
absent for the session but had an aide read her letter.

Two of the six designated police beats where people are now in line 
for equity permits are in Brooks' district. Two are in Reid's 
district, and two straddle both.

Neither Reid nor Brooks returned calls for comment.

More than 300 people showed up at City Hall last week for a meeting 
at which city officials explained the new rules. Some were wary of 
the equity permit program.

"I've talked to a couple hundred people (in Oakland) who want 
cannabis permits," said James Anthony, a lawyer who helps fledgling 
marijuana entrepreneurs start their businesses. "I've found five 
people who qualify for equity permits by residency, either because 
they live within one of those police beats or have a family member 
who lives there with whom they'd happily share their business. I've 
found one person who qualifies via the incarceration route. Everyone 
else was a low-income resident, an immigrant or a person of color, 
but they don't fit the criteria."

Anthony described his cannabis work as atonement for his former 
career as a prosecutor. From 2003 to 2005 he worked for the Oakland 
city attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps program, suing Oakland 
residents and trying to seize their homes for "nuisance" crimes, 
including drug possession.

Broader geography

He said victims of the drug war are scattered throughout Oakland - 
particularly in the low-income pockets of East and West Oakland and 
the Fruitvale neighborhood - and that the council should not limit 
its focus to a cluster of six police beats.

Frank Tucker, a prominent African American businessman and head of 
the mentorship group 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, was at the permit 
meeting and told The Chronicle that he is "exploring business 
opportunities" in the cannabis industry.

Tucker, a longtime friend of Brooks', said he opposes changes that 
would "dilute" the equity permit program.

"I view the cannabis industry as equivalent to the growth of tech, 
where underrepresentation of minority people is apparent," he said. 
"I think the equity program is focused on areas that could benefit the most."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom