Oakland’s attempt to fix racial inequality in the cannabis industry by giving permits to ex-convicts to sell, grow or transport the drug for which they were once criminalized is off to a surprisingly good start by most accounts.
The city has received 72 applications for pot business permits since May, and nearly half are seeking equity permits under a city program meant to provide reparations for the war on drugs, a U.S. government campaign that researchers say disproportionately affected African Americans. The numbers are putting to rest fears that few would apply for the program.
But proving who qualifies for the equity program is turning out to be harder than city lawmakers thought when they passed a complex set of ordinances in March.
Other roadblocks are cropping up in the budding industry, too, including a lack of available space in Oakland for new businesses — a problem that at least one City Council member wants to address by selling city-owned properties to marijuana operators.
“One could almost say it’s a miracle. There was so much fear it wouldn’t work,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who has proposed selling vacant city buildings and a number of zoning changes to ease pathways for new cannabis business owners. “This whole strategy was built from scratch in Oakland, and it appears to be going beautifully well.”
The ordinances require the city to give at least half of all available cannabis permits to individuals who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense in Oakland and earn an income less than 80 percent of the city average. “Equity applicants” can also qualify if they lived in an Oakland neighborhood for 10 of the last 20 years that saw a disproportionately high number of cannabis arrests.
Someone who doesn’t qualify under either definition — a “general applicant” — can