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Mayor Wants to Cut Cannabis Equity Program and Return State Grant

The city’s cannabis equity program could be dunzo before it even started.   





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San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is proposing to eliminate a city program that would have helped people charged with crimes related to cannabis enter the legal weed market. City staff had been working on the Cannabis Social Equity program for years but had yet to get it off the ground.  


Killing the program would force the city to return an $880,000 grant it secured from the state to help potential equity program applicants pay for permit and legal fees, licenses and other expenses. The grant expires in six months.  


Last week, Gloria unveiled a proposed budget that relies on cuts and one-time fixes to address the city’s projected $137 million deficit. The City Council still needs to approve the proposed budget and cuts before anything is final. 


While the city’s cannabis equity program may not have gotten off the ground, plenty of money and time went into building it out. The city published a study, engaged community members and presented policy proposals over the last two years.  


The council also delayed a plan to expand the number of cannabis business permits until its equity program was in place. The council did this to make sure the people most hurt by the war on drugs could benefit from programs now that the drug was legal. 


Mayor Gloria told KPBS that the proposed cuts are tough but necessary. 


Still, potential applicants who spent months advocating for the program and participating in city listening sessions that helped city staff craft language for the proposed policy are angry.

 

The council had previously allocated $1 million for its Social Equity and Economic Development program, or SEED. The program would have created opportunities for people who were criminalized for cannabis possession or sale in the past.  


MEgain McCall went to jail in 2009 when she was 28 years old for possession – it was a bag of cannabis-infused candy. It didn’t belong to McCall, it was her mother’s, but she took responsibility, she said. That decision followed her for years, affecting her ability to find work and housing.  


She also blames the deaths of her two older brothers on cannabis criminalization. They were arrested for selling weed and drug tests were a condition of their probation. To avoid failing their drug tests, they started using drugs that had a shorter lifespan in their system.


Eventually, they became addicted to harder drugs and later died from complications. 


“They cycled in and out of prison most of my life, matter of fact when I did get arrested, I was on my way to see my brother on his death bed,” she said. “They died five months apart from each other.”  


The city’s own studies show Black and Latino residents experience a disproportionate number of cannabis-related arrests when compared to their population size and other races.  

I recently sat down with a group of potential applicants about the cannabis equity program. They spoke about losing years of their lives, broken families and the struggles of life after prison because of their criminal records.  


“The social equity program is their way of saying sorry,” Dory Laramore said. “The failure of the war on drugs. That’s what we were a victim of.”  


Laramore spent nearly a decade in prison as a first offender and for a non-violent crime. He was 19 when we went to prison.  


“In my era, where I grew up in ‘East Daygo,’ we had nothing but apartment buildings on every street and back then that’s where people sold drugs out of apartments,” he said. “There’s no way I could walk from my high school, Hoover High School, and not pass five of six drug houses.”  


Laramore and others helped create the market for cannabis that people are getting wealthy off now. It is expensive to get into the legal cannabis market. Like any business, you need to have startup capital and have the time and ability to wade through an array of permitting and regulatory hassles. People with criminal histories are much less likely to have those resources.   


Two years ago, city staff kicked off listening sessions to understand the barriers that equity applicants run into. The city secured grants from the state and launched an assessment to create the program. Last year, deputy director of the city’s cannabis business division Lara Gates presented recommendations to the Land Use and Hosing Committee for how the city should launch its program.  


That included 36 cannabis equity licenses, reducing location restrictions and help with legal fees and to lease shops. The proposed policy Gates presented also included feedback from potential applicants.  


McCall’s story prompted staff to expand applicant criteria to include family members of people harmed by the war on drugs.  


“That was the day I realized my voice counted,” she told me.  

But earlier this year, conversations stalled.  


Advocates protested Gloria’s State of the City address after learning the city was leaning toward choosing applicants through a lottery system and only offering 18 licenses, KPBS reported.  


Potential applicants told me they are only asking the city for an opportunity to do business.


They want the City Council to reject the mayor’s plan to eliminate the program.   


“We’ve been waiting years and years,” Vincent Stalcup said. “We had to grow up in fatherless homes due to the war on drugs. Generational wealth will be built off this social equity program and we really need generational wealth when we’ve been dealing with generational curses.” 

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