Pubdate: Sun, 18 Mar 2018
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2018 The New York Times Company
Author: Thomas Fuller


OAKLAND, Calif. - When officers burst into Rickey McCullough's
two-story home in Oakland a decade ago they noted a "strong fresh odor
of marijuana." Mr. McCullough had been growing large amounts of
marijuana illegally, the police said. He was arrested and spent a
month in jail.

A few weeks ago the city of Oakland, now promoting itself as a hub for
marijuana entrepreneurs, awarded Mr. McCullough, 33, a license to sell
marijuana and the prospect of interest-free loans.

Four hundred miles to the south, in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton,
Virgil Grant, 50, straddles the same two worlds, but with a different
outcome. He was a marijuana dealer in the 1990s whose customers are
said to have included rap stars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac,
and he spent more than eight years in prison on marijuana convictions.
But his vision of starting a marijuana dispensary in his hometown was
dashed in January when the residents of Compton voted decisively to
ban marijuana businesses from city limits.

 From a distance, the legalization of recreational marijuana in
California can appear like a giant collective embrace of the drug by a
state that is by far its largest producer and consumer. Yet the
diverging paths of Oakland and Compton, two cities with histories of
illicit drugs and years of aggressive law enforcement crackdowns,
highlight the continued ambivalence of many Californians toward marijuana.

It is also a lesson for states and municipalities across the country
that are drawn to marijuana legalization as a source of revenue and
see it as an inevitability given the failure of decades of federal
efforts to stamp out cannabis. National polls suggest a majority of
Americans favor legalization. But opinions can diverge sharply at the
local level, and there are tensions between those who want to treat it
as a business and those who see it as an opportunity for social justice.

Several states, including Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and
Pennsylvania, are drawing up or have provisions in their marijuana
laws to assist communities disproportionately affected by drug
interdiction efforts.

In California, Oakland led the way in framing the legalization as both
an opportunity to address past injustice and as a source of revenue.
Yet dozens of other cities and towns across the state - including
Bakersfield, Brentwood, Chico, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mill Valley and
Palo Alto - want nothing to do with recreational marijuana sales.

Only 14 percent of California's 482 cities and towns allow retail
sales of recreational marijuana, according to Weedmaps, a website that
hosts reviews of cannabis businesses. Californians may want access to
a marijuana dispensary, just not necessarily down the block from them.

When legalization came into effect in California in January, Oakland
started a program that offered licenses to those with previous
marijuana arrests. The idea, which has been copied in cities like Los
Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco, was intended as a sort of
redress for the years before legalization when blacks and other
nonwhites were arrested at rates that were disproportionate to their
share of the population.

"The war on drugs was a very specific war on a very specific community
and culture," said Darlene Flynn, the director of Oakland's Department
of Race and Equity.

Oakland's equity program goes to the heart of a paradox of legal 
marijuana sales in California: While large numbers of those arrested 
before legalization were black, most of the cannabis businesses in the 
post-legalization era are run by white men.

Last year, Oakland produced a report showing that 77 percent of
cannabis-related arrests in 2015 were of African-Americans, who make
up around 30 percent of the city's 420,000 residents.

"We have plenty of data that demonstrates that white people use and
distribute drugs at the same rate as minorities do," Ms. Flynn said.
"There was an extreme tilt with regards to arrests and

In addition to those with marijuana convictions, Oakland's program is
open to people who lived in neighborhoods that had a particularly
heavy police presence during the decades of marijuana

Like Oakland, Compton has a history of police abuse and high crime
rates. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
experimented with an aircraft that recorded high-definition images of
the city, which allowed it to track everything happening on the
streets. The experiment was kept secret from the city's residents
until it was revealed two years later, to much outrage.

But both cities have had rising fortunes in recent years. Crime has 
fallen and economic prospects have brightened. The median price of a 
home in Compton is now $384,000, a 75 percent increase from five years 
ago, according to Zillow, the real estate data company. The rise has 
been even more dramatic in Oakland: prices have doubled in five years, 
to a median of $746,100.

Yet when the question of marijuana legalization came to Compton,
residents responded with a completely different answer from Oakland.

Civic and church groups in Compton banded together to campaign
door-to-door against two ballot measures that would have allowed
marijuana dispensaries and other cannabis manufacturing businesses.

"We've been working so hard trying to change the image of Compton,"
said the Rev. Stanley W. Prince, a leader of the "no" campaign that
was victorious in the January vote. "There is an economy that can be
developed without having weed as the main product."

Young people in Compton have a much smaller margin of error than
people in wealthier places, Mr. Prince said. They could easily be
denied jobs or be fired from them because of marijuana use.

"We are trying to show that it will not work in our community," he

In late January, a decisive 76 percent of voters in Compton rejected
the proposals that would have allowed marijuana businesses.

Compton's city manager, Cecil W. Rhambo Jr., said the vote underlined
the strength of underestimated conservative views on marijuana in the
city, which has a population of just under 100,000.

Mr. Rhambo said the vote showed that the "city portrayed in rap videos
is different from the values of the older people who live here, the
high propensity voters."

Compton still struggles with violence - there were 27 murders in 2017.
But that is a fraction of the numbers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Longtime Compton residents, especially those who live in parts of town
with neat rows of ranch houses and citrus trees, emphasize a sense of
community and the household names who grew up in the city, among them
the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, the actor Kevin Costner,
and the former N.F.L. commissioner Pete Rozelle. (The Williams sisters
returned to Compton 16 months ago for a ceremony that dedicated a set
of municipal tennis courts in their name.)

"It was just an idyllic place to grow up," said James Hays, 61, the
owner of a medical technology company who moved to Compton as a child
in 1961. "You had nice single-family homes and manicured lawns, clean

Like many others in the no campaign, Mr. Hays blames the town's
deterioration on drugs, including marijuana.

"Drugs tore this community up," he said. "We saw people who started
with marijuana and moved to heavier drugs."

James Anthony, a lawyer in Oakland and a marijuana advocate, says he
has detected wariness among community leaders toward legalization,
especially in black communities.

"They've spent decades and generations telling people just say no to
drugs - drugs are bad," Mr. Anthony said. "Now some people are
beginning to say, 'Well, this is an economic opportunity for our
community and the war on drugs was a bad, racist program, so we should
have the opportunity to make some money on this.'"

"It's a conflicted situation," he said.

Mr. McCullough, the Oakland resident who received a marijuana license
in January, has no ambivalence.

He was one of four so-called equity candidates chosen by lottery from
a pool of dozens of residents who applied for a license to sell cannabis.

"If you look at the numbers, we were definitely more targeted than any
other race," said Mr. McCullough, who is black. "The city is helping
us to fight back."

His arrest a decade ago made him eligible to obtain a license. On the
afternoon of August 2008, a burglar smashed through the window of Mr.
McCullough's home, prompting neighbors to call the police. The
officers who responded did not find the intruder but seized 10 ounces
of marijuana that he had grown, a rifle and ammunition. Mr. McCullough
went from being the victim of a burglary to the object of an
investigation that led to his conviction.

In recent weeks, Mr. McCullough has received numerous offers from
would-be investors and is still scouting for locations for his dispensary.

"It's a good feeling because there's been some kind of social justice
here," Mr. McCullough said. "I'd like to see this program implemented

Mr. Grant, the marijuana businessman from Compton, has three marijuana
dispensaries in Los Angeles. But operating in his hometown, where his
family owns a grocery store, will require some convincing.

He thinks Compton will come around to the idea.

"This is a billion-dollar industry soon to become a trillion-dollar
industry," he said. "Why wouldn't they want to receive some of that?"

Doris Burke contributed research and reporting from New York, and
Sonner Kehrt from Oakland.
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