Fighting to Undo the Damage of the Drug War with Social Equity Licenses

Feb 23, 2018

In the wake of Proposition 64, several cities in California, including Los Angeles, are either rolling out or considering social equity programs as a way to counterbalance some of the ills done by the war on drugs, especially marijuana, in previous decades. These prioritize cannabis dispensary licenses to those in neighborhoods hit hardest by the war on drugs. Additionally, so the profits remain local, those granted a license are required to reinvest in their communities and hire within a certain radius of their location. Social equity licensees are given assistance with obtaining loans, finding start-up. capital, and securing business space. Perhaps boldest of all, aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs with prior cannabis convictions are bumped to the top of the line, as sort of a compensation for imprisonment for a crime that is now legal.

“We are productive, and we will be productive,” Walter Edwards, a social equity applicant in Los Angeles told Merry Jane, regarding his community in South Central. “But we’ve been dumped on with everything from drugs to guns to cocaine, so we’ve never been given a chance to flourish. And of course, we can make choices, but when there are no jobs here, the choices have been taken away. This program says, ‘Hey, we’ll give you that chance. Let’s go.’” And many think it's about time.

Although Los Angeles is among those municipalities giving social equity licenses, none have been issued yet (Oakland was actually the first city to begin issuing licenses). The extensive requirements have lengthened the process but also make sure businesses that are aided by the city are more likely to succeed.

The trend of social equity licenses is spreading in California and beyond. In California, Carson, Stockton, Santa Ana, San Bernardino, and Commerce are all pursuing equity licenses, while across the country New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; Arkansas; Boston, Massachusetts; Washington D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland are also looking into it, "based on the Los Angeles/Oakland models."

Social equity licenses aren't the only legal assistance the cannabis convicted are receiving in the wake of legalization. Prop 64 allows those convicted with a cannabis offense to move on with their lives, either by applying for a reduction in the seriousness of the conviction (from a felony to misdemeanor) or expungement of their records altogether. However, the affected individuals still have to apply, a process which isn't necessarily easy or affordable. As Merry Jane says:

The onus for expungement falls on those with the records. The downside is many Californians are completely unaware that they now have this right under Prop 64. Additionally, applying for expungement or reduction can be a time-consuming and costly process, wrought with headaches for those who’ve already been run through a callous and cruel penal system.

Merry Jane points out that although this is a new idea in the United States, we are the only Western nation that doesn't observe legal amelioration. the overturning of old convictions when what you were convicted of is no longer illegal.

Photo via California Minority Alliance

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