The California Bureau of Cannabis Control announced last week that it’s now accepting grant applications from cities to help give their budding minority-owned businesses and cannabis equity program applicants a leg up. A $10 million stashbox has been set aside for the grant program as part of the California Cannabis Equity Act, which was signed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Each approved jurisdiction will receive a minimum of $100,000. Recipients may use the cash to secure capital investments, pay startup costs, or recruit and train workers. The new law aims to create a weed industry that includes people “who are linked to populations or neighborhoods that were negatively or disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization,” rather than have it dominated by dude-bros who rode out prohibition by way of white privilege and then legally prospered from the same plant that disproportionately got people of color locked up.
In a statement, California “Weed Czar” Lori Ajax called the fund “a significant step in supporting equity applicants with entry into the cannabis industry, as well as to provide support to equity licensees.”
Unfortunately for San Jose, it might’ve been too slow to the take to meet the April 1 grant deadline, which would be a bummer because it’s one of the few major cities in the state without a cannabis equity initiative.
Though San Jose was the first South Bay city to adopt local pot laws and created legislation that became a template for other jurisdictions, it has yet to get an equity program off the ground. Earlier this year, the council punted a proposal for an equity initiative to the priority-setting session, which took place this week.
Minority council members Magdalena Carrasco and Raul Peralez shopped the hardest for the equity proposal, as did their new colleague Pam Foley. On Tuesday, they joined Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and council members Sylvia Arenas and Sergio Jimenez in placing the issue on the city’s legislative agenda for the coming year.
Daniel Montero—who founded the San Jose Cannabis Equity Group because he saw no path forward for small canna-businesses run by victims of previously discriminatory drug laws—welcomed the support from City Hall. Montero himself deserves credit for keeping the conversation about equity alive in San Jose through his community-led coalition, which aims to diversify representation in the local pot industry.
“We all share the same financial struggles,” Montero said in a recent interview, “but there really was a War on Drugs and people of color were arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than Caucasians.”
Montero knows the disparity all too well: his own record is marred by the kind of marijuana-related convictions that have barred many other non-whites from working in or opening their own dispensaries or other weed businesses.
He said an equity program could be San Jose’s “historic opportunity to … empower local people to own their own businesses” and ensure that the booming bud market doesn’t become as whitewashed as the Silicon Valley tech industry writ large.
Now that equity is an official priority, it’s up to city leaders to get it past the finish line.