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Finding the Equity and Justice in the California Marijuana Business 
By Niele Anderson, Contributing Writer 
Published January 4, 2018

A customer purchases marijuana at Harborside marijuana dispensary, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. Starting New Year’s Day, recreational marijuana can be sold legally in California. (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

Last year, the state of California, wrestled with the how to go about implementing Proposition 64. How would the state implement the use of recreational marijuana on a state, city and county level, while on a federal level marijuana is still illegal.  

California State Senator Holly Mitchell, chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee stated, “this has proven to be especially difficult given the complexities of the challenges, including how to address jurisdictional issues between the feds, the state and cities and counties. She further stated, “there also are many additional unanswered questions, such as how cannabis users are treated by the foster care and medical systems or how communities that were most impacted by prior policies are encouraged to participate in the new marketplace. “ 

Los Angeles County and City Council worked with the community, cannabis industry, and law enforcement to iron out details, policy, rules and regulations. L.A. City Councilmember of the 8th District Marqueece Harris-Dawson advocated for the Social Equity Program with the new change, he wanted to make sure people of color had a seat at the table, especially those who had been put into the criminal justice system due to cannabis related charges.  

Dawson stated “For decades, African American’s have borne the brunt of racist drug policies. The Los Angeles City Council rose to the challenge to create the most progressive Social Equity Program in the nation that specifically benefits individuals and communities that were targeted by the war on drugs”.  He continued, “the policy will increase the participation of African-American entrepreneurs, ensuring that they reap the benefits of a system that has added to their criminalization. Additionally, the policy will close illegal shops and stop the over-concentration of illegal problem cannabis shops that we see across our communities. 

A man holds up a joint during a rally to support the legalization of marijuana on Capitol Hill, Monday, April 24, 2017 in Washington. Smoking pot in public remains illegal everywhere in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Under the Social Equity program, cannabis business operators that meet the “social equity” criteria would be moved to the front of the license applications. These businesses would need to meet criteria, such as have low-income status, a cannabis-related conviction or being located in an area that has had a high number of cannabis-related arrests.

Harris also believes the program will contribute to Criminal Justice Reform as he stated, “this social equity policy will shut down one of the major fronts on the war on drugs. Our social equity program is the most aggressive, the most progressive, and the most just Social Equity Program that anybody has anywhere in the U.S. We cannot achieve our goals of justice until we prioritize individuals and communities that suffered unjustly under the terror that was the war on drugs, this Social Equity Program is a big step in the right direction”.  

The City of Los Angeles has yet to start issuing local licenses to pot shops, which has frustrated medical marijuana dispensaries that have been following city rules.  As for the recreational user, California adults 21 and older they can possess as much as an ounce and grow up to six plants at home as of Monday. 

A man smokes a marijuana cigarette as a large group gathered near the New Jersey Statehouse to show their support for legalizing marijuana Saturday, March 21, 2015, in Trenton, N.J. The event drew a diverse crowd of roughly 200 people. Many said they wanted to show their support for legalizing or decriminalizing pot, while others said it should only be given to people with medical conditions that could be eased by the drug. Several people were openly smoking the drug during Saturday’s rally, but apparently none were arrested. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

State Senator Holly Mitchell stated, “one area that appears to be clear, is that legalized cannabis for adult consumption should result in fewer people being incarcerated and reduce the stigma associated with cannabis”. 

However, marijuana remains illegal in the eye of the U.S. Justice Department and it is illegal to take marijuana across state lines, bring it on a plane or mail it. Congress member Karen Bass stated, “I’m concerned how a Sessions-led Injustice Department will respond to blue states like California going through the legalization process. I think there’s a very real possibility that the Trump administration will come after those states like they did in their tax plan”. 

The California industry is forecast to reach $7 billion by 2020, more than the $6.6 billion of the entire legal cannabis market in the United States in 2016, according to New Frontier Data. California is the sixth state to allow sales of recreational marijuana. Other states include Nevada Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Massachusetts will begin selling retail marijuana on July 1. Maine has approved it, but there is no set date to begin sales. 

For more on local rules and regulations visit https://cannabis.ca.gov. 

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