Sacramento to Help Ex-Convicts Break into the Weed Industry

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Last week, the Sacramento City Council officially approved its plan to reduce drug crime by announcing its CORE program to help ex-convicts run their own, legal cannabis businesses.

It’s no secret that marijuana means big bucks in society today. The drug’s annual revenue in the United States has soared to multibillion-dollar status and continues to steadily grow. In California, the recreational market is expected to hit $3.7 billion by the end of this year after only opening in January. By 2019, that number is projected to reach $5 billion. Those numbers are enticing to anyone, but not everyone has been able to penetrate the market. Those who have been convicted for drug-related crimes, for instance, have been repeatedly excluded when it comes to the booming industry. Thus, creating a glass ceiling in this relatively new industry.

“The same people who have imprisoned us are now the same ones who are taking advantage of the decriminalization of marijuana,” Rashid F. Sidqe, vice-chair of Sacramento’s Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, told CBS 13 in Sacramento.

Just a few years ago, marijuana was something that landed these individuals in jail, but now people are seeking tremendous success from it. Despite the drug’s decriminalization, many of these ex-convicts are continually ostracized from taking part in marijuana’s immense profitability. Sacramento, however, seeks to change all that via an equal opportunity program. Officially, it is called the Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (CORE) program. CORE was first approved last November and was met with initial resistance from people who were uncomfortable with having marijuana businesses in their neighborhoods. Last week, it was officially approved. City Council was able to identify eight neighborhoods affected by the 40-year-long war on drugs via its police department’s Crime Analysis Unit. It was then discovered that these neighborhoods had suffered disproportionate marijuana-related arrests from 2004 to 2017.

To combat this issue, City Council concluded that those who have lived in these eight neighborhoods for at least five years could receive benefits. Anyone who was arrested for nonviolent marijuana crimes between 1980 and 2011, or who had an immediate family member convicted for cannabis during that time, qualifies for the program. These benefits will wave business permit fees that can reach to tens and thousands of dollars, expunge these marijuana arrests from their criminal records, give these individuals priority access into the cannabis business, and give them the opportunity to be mentored by industry experts.

Sacramento is the fourth Californian city to assimilate this kind of program into its system following San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. These cities, and states like Massachusetts and Maryland, have launched similar equity programs but have seen little success. Applicants in Oakland’s program have reported that the city is not following through on its promises. Occupants from Oakland’s neighborhoods were told that businesses would offer them free retail space, but these businesses have yet to follow through on this proposal and the city is reportedly not enforcing its policies. Similarly, equity applicants in Massachusetts seem to be struggling as well. Applicants in this state are trying to find other sources to fund to their cannabis businesses after the state has failed to provide assistance despite attempts. It is likely that Sacramento’s CORE program will not be free of these such issues, and its officials are aware of that.

“This is going to be a learning experience for us and we are going to make some mistakes. We can’t be afraid to fail,” Sacramento City Councilmember Jay Schenirer said to KCRA. “This is an experiment in a lot of ways. I hope that we will learn from it and continue to make it better as we go forward.”

Like Massachusetts, issues that have the potential to plague Sacramento’s CORE program include a possible lack of funding. It can take upwards $100,000 to get a marijuana business off the ground, and there are numerous applicants waiting to receive what they were promised. Another problem is opposition. As with any issue involving marijuana, Sacramento’s CORE program has seen its fair share of controversy. Cannabis advocates like Sidqe believe that guaranteeing equal access is only right, but others are not pleased with having businesses of this nature so close to home. This is likely attributed to enduring notions and stigmas stemming from the popular 1930s film, Reefer Madness and other anti-cannabis propaganda that has lasted throughout the years. As the program is further initiated, adjustments will have to be made before it will be successfully operating in full swing. While many may remain dubious that Sacramento will be able to follow through on these promises, for these equity applicants, it is surely worth trying.

 

Photo Credit: Pot Appetit

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