Pot in­dus­try of­fers breaks to mi­nori­ties

Of­fi­cials hope to en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion, di­ver­sity in cannabis busi­ness

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JANIE HAR AND BOB SALSBERG

AOAKLAND, CALIF. ndre Shavers was sen­tenced to five years on felony pro­ba­tion af­ter au­thor­i­ties burst into the house where he was liv­ing in one of Oak­land’s most heav­ily po­liced neigh­bor­hoods and found a quar­ter ounce of mar­i­juana.

Af­ter the 2007 raid, Mr. Shavers couldn’t leave the state with­out per­mis­sion. He was sub­ject to po­lice searches at any time. He walked to the cor­ner store one night for maple syrup and came back in a po­lice car. Of­fi­cers wanted to search his home again.

All the while, cannabis store­fronts flour­ished else­where in a state where med­i­cal mar­i­juana was au­tho­rized in 1996.

Now Oak­land and other cities and states with le­gal pot are try­ing to make up for the toll mar­i­juana en­force­ment took on mi­nori­ties by giv­ing them a bet­ter shot at join­ing the grow­ing mar­i­juana in­dus­try. African-Amer­i­cans made up 83 per­cent of cannabis ar­rests in Oak­land in the year Mr. Shavers was ar­rested.

“I was kind of robbed of a lot for five years,” Mr. Shavers said. “It’s al­most like, what do they call that? Repa­ra­tions. That’s how I look at it. If this is what they’re of­fer­ing, I’m go­ing to go ahead and use the ser­vices.”

The ef­forts’ sup­port­ers say le­gal­iza­tion is en­rich­ing white peo­ple but not brown and black peo­ple who have been ar­rested for cannabis crimes at far greater rates than whites.

Recre­ational pot is le­gal in eight states and the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Mas­sachusetts and Ne­vada ap­proved bal­lot ques­tions in Novem­ber. They join Colorado, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, Alaska and the Dis­trict of Columbia, which acted ear­lier. Twenty-nine states per­mit med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Mas­sachusetts’ bal­lot ini­tia­tive was the first to in­sert spe­cific lan­guage en­cour­ag­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the in­dus­try by those “dis­pro­por­tion­ately harmed by mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion and en­force­ment.” The law does not spec­ify how that would be ac­com­plished.

In Ohio, a 2016 med­i­cal pot law in­cluded set­ting aside 15 per­cent of mar­i­juana-re­lated li­censes for mi­nor­ity busi­nesses. In Penn­syl­va­nia, ap­pli­cants for cul­ti­va­tion and dis­pens­ing per­mits must spell out how they will achieve racial eq­uity.

Florida law­mak­ers agreed last year to re­serve one of three fu­ture cul­ti­va­tion li­censes for a mem­ber of the Florida Black Farm­ers and Agri­cul­tur­al­ists As­so­ci­a­tion.

There have been set­backs as well. The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly ad­journed last month with­out act­ing on a bill to guar­an­tee a place for mi­nor­ity-owned busi­nesses that were not awarded any of the state’s ini­tial 15 med­i­cal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion li­censes.

There’s no solid data on how many mi­nori­ties own U.S. cannabis busi­nesses or how many seek a foothold in the in­dus­try. But di­ver­sity ad­vo­cates say the in­dus­try is over­whelm­ingly white.

The lack of di­ver­sity, they say, can be traced to mul­ti­ple fac­tors: rules that dis­qual­ify peo­ple with prior con­vic­tions from op­er­at­ing le­gal cannabis busi­nesses; lack of ac­cess to bank­ing ser­vices and cap­i­tal to fi­nance startup costs; and state li­cens­ing sys­tems that tend to fa­vor estab­lished or po­lit­i­cally con­nected ap­pli­cants.

“It’s a prob­lem that has been rec­og­nized but has proven to be rel­a­tively in­tractable,” said Sam Kamin, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Den­ver Sturm Col­lege of Law who stud­ies mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tion.

In 2010, blacks con­sti­tuted 14 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion but made up more than 36 per­cent of all ar­rests for pot pos­ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to an Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union study re­leased in 2013. The re­port found African-Amer­i­cans were nearly four times more likely than whites to be ar­rested for cannabis pos­ses­sion.

That study did not re­port Latino ar­rests be­cause the FBI data on which it was based did not track His­pan­ics. But a 2016 study by the ACLU of Cal­i­for­nia and the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance found Lati­nos were cited at 1.4 times the rate of white peo­ple for mar­i­juana in­frac­tions in Los An­ge­les and 1.7 per­cent the rate in Fresno.

The Mi­nor­ity Cannabis Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion has drafted model leg­is­la­tion for states con­sid­er­ing new or re­vised mar­i­juana laws, in­clud­ing lan­guage to ex­punge pot-re­lated con­vic­tions and to en­cour­age racial and gen­der di­ver­sity among cannabis busi­nesses.

“The peo­ple who got locked up should not get locked out of this in­dus­try,” said Tito Jack­son, a Bos­ton city coun­cil­man and may­oral can­di­date. He sug­gests Mas­sachusetts give li­cens­ing pref­er­ence to groups that in­clude at least one per­son with a mar­i­juana con­vic­tion.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia is prod­ding cannabis busi­nesses to pair with mi­nori­ties if they want a li­cense to sell, man­u­fac­ture, cul­ti­vate or dis­trib­ute weed in 2018.

In 2007, An­dre Shavers was sen­tenced to five years on felony pro­ba­tion af­ter au­thor­i­ties burst into the house and found a quar­ter ounce of pot.

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