Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Joe Garofoli
Page: C1


DENVER - Many Californians will vote to legalize marijuana for adult
recreational use Nov. 8 because - hell, yeah! But many of the rest of
us are hoping for a longer, deeper high from legalization. We're
hoping it brings some social justice.

That benefit of legalization, I fear, is being a bit oversold in
California. Ask Candi CdeBaca. Legalizing pot hasn't started to solve
decades of inequities in her neighborhood because not enough people
there have made social justice a priority.

CdeBaca was born and raised in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood of
Denver, a poorer, predominantly Latino neighborhood. It used to be an
industrial hub - the Purina pet food factory is still open nearby -
and there used to be a cabinet-making plant across the street from
where CdeBaca grew up. But like in many big cities, a lot of those
industries moved away, leaving behind empty warehouses. Then Colorado
legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in 2012.

"A lot of the progressive people here, we thought legalization would
impact us favorably," CdeBaca told me. But CdeBaca, who is the
executive director of Project VOYCE, Voices of Youth Changing
Education, thought it would bring jobs to a community that desperately
needed them.

On paper, the industry delivered. A Denver Post survey this year found
that Swansea - because of its low rents, vacant warehouses and zoning
laws friendly to weed businesses - had one of the highest
concentration of cannabis businesses in the city.

But CdeBaca said a lot of people who started those cannabis businesses
weren't from the neighborhood. Because marijuana is a business
emerging from the shadows of illegality, "you want to hire people you
know," she said. And so the white people who had the money to start
the businesses hired mostly other white people, she said.

"It's not been for the people in the community," she

A central argument for marijuana legalization has been that people of
color are disproportionately subject to pot-related arrests, even
though they don't use the drug more than whites. Legalization was
supposed to even out the arrest rates, but that hasn't happened in

The good news is that in the first two years of legalization,
marijuana arrests fell 46 percent as many people complied with the new
regulations, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
However, while the number of arrests decreased 51 percent for whites,
they dropped only 33 percent for Latinos and 25 percent for African
Americans. The pot-related arrest rate for African Americans remained
nearly triple that of whites.

When I asked Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has methodically spent the
past two years shepherding marijuana legalization to the ballot while
talking up the social justice benefits, whether this would happen in
California, he said the early stats from Colorado represented "a
legitimate concern."

Those problems "won't go away overnight," Newsom said.

Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that's been
fighting for years for legalization and social justice around the
country - including in California - said a yes vote on Nov. 8 is just
the first step.

"Nothing we do eliminates racism," Lyman said. "We can't get at
underlying racism, but we can offer the tools to neutralize some of

Learning from what's happened in Colorado, the people who wrote
California's Proposition 64 included some provisions aimed at making
the industry more open to all. The ballot measure gives local
governments the power to make laws that can right some of America's
drug war's wrongs.

And that brings us to Oakland, which is in the midst of trying to do
just that by making laws that are trying to make sure that everybody
has a chance to make it in the new industry. But it's not easy. Terryn
Buxton, a cannabis business consultant who represents one of Oakland's
poorest neighborhoods on the city's Cannabis Regulatory Commission,
understands what's happening in CdeBaca's Denver neighborhood, because
he fears that's what would happen in his.

"Given that most growers are coming out of the black market, it's not
surprising that you only going to hire people who you trust," Buxton
told me. "That's why it is so important that there are local hire

The early ways Oakland has tried to make the weed business equitable -
trying to make sure that African Americans and Latinos have equal
footing in the industry -have been riddled with problems that my
colleague Rachel Swan has written about. It's not surprising. Making
this industry equitable requires us to untie centuries of problems
related to race and class and power.

But at least Oakland is starting to have a really tough conversation
about equity. Other cities should pay attention, because they are
going to have to wrestle with the same one.

There's an urgency here because California may be the country's last
chance to get this right. Lyman said longtime funders of cannabis
legalization efforts, many of them motivated by social justice
concerns, are growing weary of footing the bill for ballot measures
around the country. They want people in the weed industry to take over
funding of those efforts. But there's no telling whether enough new
cannabis entrepreneurs are as interested in social justice as they are
in cashing in on the green gold rush. So how we solve this in
California will set the template for the rest of the country.

So - hell, yeah! - if Prop. 64 passes, it will give lot of people a
big buzz. But before that wears off, all of us - white progressives,
weed entrepreneurs, black and brown activists, social justice
believers and weed lovers of all shades - are going to have to figure
out how to make sure everybody equally shares in the green. Or else
this industry is no more enlightened than any other.
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