America’s first reparations plan to compensate Black Americans for slavery was 40 acres and a mule a piece, but that promise was revoked and the land was taken back. Now California is talking about a new type of reparation, reefer reparations.
“There are folks who come in my city to get rich off the folks who are dying in my city.”
Earlier this month the Oakland City Council met once again to finalize some of the city’s new marijuana laws. The new laws are designed to enable and assist Black Americans disproportionately arrested for drug crimes to open a business in the cannabis industry by obtaining an “equity permit.” In order to qualify, applicants must have been arrested for a drug crime in Oakland dating back to 1996 and live within identified police beats for at least ten of the past 20 years. They must also be earning below 80 percent of the city’s average median income. While the equity permit did not raise any concerns, its attempt to put forth a residency condition did.
The residency condition was also an attempt at ensuring the growing cannabis business in Oakland was beneficial to Oakland residents. Giving those most affected by the War on Drugs in Oakland an opportunity to reap the benefits of cannabis legalization is the City Council’s aim. The residency condition would have blocked anyone who hasn’t lived in Oakland for at least three years from starting their business there. Council President Larry Reid illustrated how, “There are folks who come in my city to get rich off the folks who are dying in my city.” These conditions were proposed as a way to remedy the racial and class disparities in arrest rates for cannabis—depicted as a first-in-the-nation form of reparations.
City of Oakland Race and Equity Director Darlene Flynn, helped to further this argument explaining that, “for over two decades, black and brown residents were arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses at disparately high rates, while largely white cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and distributors who were not operating entirely above board either, flourished under changing laws designed to accommodate the burgeoning industry.”
However, not everyone sees this move as one that would benefit Oakland and it’s residents. The debate became heated over the best ways to create racial equity in the industry. Reid called it “one of the ugliest processes I’ve gone through.” Many people seen this as an illegal and unconstitutional move and the council later voted 6-2 against the residency requirement. Half of the initial cannabis permits the city plans to issue will go to equity applicants under the ordinances, but anyone seeking a permit can apply, regardless of where they live.
The vote left many feeling unheard and defeated. One resident commented that, “These same people were quiet when we were being arrested at disproportionate rates,” referring to current marijuana business owners. Regardless of the legalities of the residency condition in the new laws, the conversation pertaining to equality in the cannabis industry and righting the wrongs that have been made in the past have begun and we can only hope to see more programs and conditions in other states like the equity program in Oakland.