The Failed War on Drugs, Social Equity and the Legalization of Cannabis

Based on data collected from the Los Angeles Police Department and other sources it has been confirmed that in Southern California Black and brown communities were vilified and maligned by the failed “War on Drugs”.  I dare to say this is the case across the country. 

National surveys show that white and black people use cannabis at approximately the same rate, however black people are 4-times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than whites. 

In Los Angeles California, police arrest for the quasi-legal and hugely profitable medical cannabis industry run mostly by white entrepreneurs overwhelmingly target African Americans and Latinos; African Americans comprise less than 10% of the population, yet between 2000 and 2017, blacks represented 40% of cannabis related arrests, Latinos made up 44% of arrests and Whites made up only 16% of cannabis related arrests. 

It’s going to take generations to recover from harm inflected on our communities from the failed “War on Drugs”.

The idea behind proposed “Social Equity” programs, as it relates to emerging State’s legalizing cannabis in America, is to make it easier for people of color who were arrested, disproportionately targeted for marijuana enforcement or otherwise negatively affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws, to get in on the ground floor of this emerging multibillion-dollar legal cannabis industry. 

The challenges for many people of color to open a cannabis business include huge upfront costs, obstacles to getting bank loans and extremely complex regulations.

Across the country grass-roots organizations in local jurisdictions are developing a Social Equity platform to address remedies related to cannabis business opportunities for their community as a result of the failed “War on Drugs”. 

Consider the following:

  • Establish a robust social equity component in all aspect of this industry including matching the number of Social Equity Permits to the number of Priority (Prop D) permits, before opening up applications to others. This would balance out the industry in the initial phase. After that, for every General Permit, an additional Social Equity Permit would be issued – maintaining equity as the industry grows.
  • Create of a Training and Pipeline program for Social Equity Businesses.
  • Establish a Revolving Loan Fund for Social Equity Applicants.
  • Create of a Social Equity, Community Reinvestment Fund, to address the devastation to communities from the failed “War on Drugs”.
  • Open legal clinics to help people expunge conviction records for non-violent marijuana related arrests.
  • Create re-entry programs for individuals leaving prison.

If not now, the result will be an industry dominated from the start by white-owned companies backed by deep pocket investors.


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