In-depth: Marijuana equity in the “Green Rush”

 

OAKLAND (KRON) — The legalization of recreational marijuana in California is setting the stage for the birth of a new industry.

It is an economic influx that could be a big boost for the City of Oakland, which for years has been seen as the Bay Area’s nexus of pot-based business.

But now, there are fears that the city has been falling behind as it tackles how to make sure communities of color don’t get left behind during the green rush.

“We have to consider all of our options,” Brandy Petricka said. “We don’t want to move. It’s not easily to uproot. It’s not like a threat or anything”

Dark Heart Nursery grows marijuana starter plants. They’ve been doing brisk business in East Oakland since 2007.

And they want to stay There but are worried they might not be able to.

“We don’t have a permit,” Petricka said. “We need a permit. It’s going to be vital to get the permit in California.”

Like many cannabis-related businesses in Oakland, Dark Heart Nursery has a business license and pays taxes to the city, but under new state regulations, they’re also going to need a cannabis operating permit issued by Oakland by 2018.

And that permitting process stalled before it even really got started.

The issue that has the permit process clogged up at city hall is how to make the cannabis industry equitable for those communities of color that some would say were unfairly targeted during the war on drugs.

The city council has been squabbling over a plan to set aside half of the city’s operating permits for those convicted of marijuana-related offenses or those who have lived two years within certain East Oakland police beats with a high number of marijuana arrests.

It is a plan criticized by many cannabis business operators for being too restrictive. The debate around this issue has been waging for months.

Meanwhile, there are those that are worrying that other cities will benefit from Oakland’s delay.

“Santa Rosa looks good, Richmond looks really good,” said Matt Hummel, who is the chair of Oakland’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

He says interest in Oakland as a marijuana mecca is withering.

“We had people calling Oakland, ‘I want a permit. I want a permit every day, all day long.’ Until about two months ago because cities across the state have picked up the ball and started running with it because we set it down,” Hummel said.

Oakland has been collecting taxes on pot profits for years, raking in more than $13 million in just five years. It is money that goes into the general fund and is funneled into things like police and fire services, libraries, and parks.

That number is expected to keep going up now that Prop 64 has passed unless other marijuana-friendly municipalities lure pot businesses and investors elsewhere.

“We are making amends,” said Ebele Ifedigbo, who is the co-founder of the Hood Incubator. “Guess the word would be for the travesty that happened from the war on drugs over the past 40-50 years and how it’s affected people of color.“

Hood Incubator is a non-profit which is working to increase the profile of the black and brown communities in the cannabis industry.

While she admits the city may miss on some economic opportunities with all of the debate and delay, Ifedigbo says it’s worth it.

“Yes the conversation has gone on for eight, nine, going on 10 months now, but this is stuff that’s going to set the tone for generations after generations to come, so if it takes a little while for us to get it right, that’s OK,” Ifedigbo said.

“Don’t get me wrong. We have to get it right. Race and equity is not an easy solve,” Petricka said.

“It would be a shame that even the equity doesn’t happen because the industry has moved on,” Hummel said.

The city council is set to vote next month on a new equity plan that offers help to the disenfranchised in other ways.

“Loan funding, tax breaks, and support for their burgeoning business,” Petricka said. “It also gives them a clear path into permitting process.”

They don’t want to see the industry in Oakland dry up, just as it’s starting to take root.


KRON4 has obtained city records detailing the growth of pot-related business and tax revenue in Oakland:

Year Total No. of Business
Registered as Cannabis Businesses
2010 7
2011 9
2012 12
2013 17
2014 26
2015 115
2016 145
Total Business Tax Collected
2010  $  429,426
2011  $ 1,479,617
2012  $  2,755,582
2013  $  2,421,721
2014  $  2,733,706
2015  $  3,533,044

Questions and answers:

Is the 5 percent tax figure still in effect or is that going up?

Yes, it remains at 5% until 2018.

What sort of things benefit from this money?

This Revenue goes into the General Fund which supports a wide variety of City services from police and fire to parks and libraries.

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