Oakland’s Recreational Dispensary Residency Requirement Overturned Amid Legal Uproar
Some called the rules a necessary form of reparations, but others claim it was flat-out unconstitutional.
Published on March 22, 2017

A radical new law in Oakland, California that sought to even the racial and economic playing field in the city’s cannabis industry was overturned Tuesday, when City Council members voted against a rule that would allow only established Oakland residents to apply for recreational cannabis dispensary licenses.

In an effort to provide reparations for the city’s largely minority population that has for so long been unfairly persecuted for cannabis related crimes, Oakland lawmakers passed last minute regulations two weeks ago that would have required recreational dispensary applicants to be current city residents with at least three years of Oakland residency. The regulations also gave a heavy preference to “equity” applicants that had been previously arrested for cannabis crimes, or lived in areas of the city where police were particularly discriminatory in their marijuana enforcement.

The advanced opportunities for those convicted of cannabis crimes or living in high enforcement districts will remain, but according to SFGate, after Tuesday’s City Council meeting, out-of-city residents will have just as much chance as non-equity Oakland residents in the race to own a city pot shop.

“The residency requirement is patently, blatantly unconstitutional,” Rob Selna, an Oakland attorney working with equity and general cannabis applicants told SFGate. “As a lawyer, you hear that they’re going to exclude businesses owned by non-residents — it just hits you in the gut as illegal.”

So despite the outcry from community activists worried that allowing outside business interests with deep pockets into the city’s cannabis industry would hurt the equity program, the council voted 6-2 to overturn the residency requirement, including positive votes from all 5 Caucasian council members. Council President Larry Reid, who voted to keep the residency requirement, said the debate was “one of the ugliest processes I’ve gone through.”

Oakland-based State Assemblyman Rob Bonta voiced his support for the equity program, but also questioned the legality of the residency clause.

“The mission and goals are right,” Bonta told SFGate. “Maximum equity — that’s spot on. Those who were the victims of the war on drugs and drug policy should be able to benefit now. But as you chart a course to get there, you need to be compliant with the Constitution and all state and local laws.”

So while Oakland residents won’t be the only ones allowed to set up shop once the city’s dispensaries go recreational, the Town is still light-years ahead of other states and California municipalities in their action towards reparations for victims of the War on Drugs.

Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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