Sacramento has just unveiled plans for a new program to help entrepreneurs most negatively affected by drug enforcement policy get a leg up in California's growing cannabis industry. Last week, the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved the Cannabis Opportunity Reinvestment and Equity (CORE) program, which was initially approved last November. “This CORE program is going to help those who were disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs,” Malaki Seku-Amen of the California Urban Partnership explained to the Sacramento Bee. ”It will help us who suffered generational poverty to benefit from the region’s $4 billion industry in cannabis.”
The city used data from its police department’s Crime Analysis Unit to identify eight neighborhoods which suffered disproportionate rates of cannabis arrests between 2004 and 2017. Individuals who lived in these neighborhoods for at least five years are now eligible to receive financial assistance and mentorships to start up new canna-businesses. Anyone who was arrested for a non-violent cannabis offense between 1980 and 2011, or who had an immediate family member arrested or convicted for a such a “crime,” is also eligible for the program.
For those who do qualify, the city will waive business permit fees, which can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. The program also guarantees priority processing of the applicants' business permits, and offers assistance with criminal record expungement and ongoing business guidance. "We have a goal of having 50 percent of all licenses be awarded to those who were impacted by the War on Drugs,” Seku-Amen said to local NBC affiliate KCRA. “If you were sent to jail or arrested and you were in an area that was disproportionately impacted — you experienced generational poverty. It doesn't matter if you are Black, White, Latino or Asian. You will be able to qualify for this program."
Many other local governments, including other California cities like Oakland and Los Angeles, and states like Massachusetts and Maryland, have recently made attempts to establish programs to help encourage equal participation in the cannabis industry. But although programs like this look great on paper, many of these cities and states are now discovering that establishing social equity is easier said than done.
Oakland was one of the first cities to unveil a cannabis social equity program, but applicants in this program have reported that the city has been failing to meet its goals. The city offered priority application processing to canna-businesses that promised to provide free business space to equity applicants. Some businesses have been reneging on their promises, however, and the city has not been enforcing their policies. In Massachusetts, a recent report has found that many equity applicants are struggling to source enough funding to start up canna-businesses, despite the state's attempts to provide assistance.
Lack of funding may also end up being an issue in Sacramento. Local medical marijuana dispensary owner Lynette Davies said that while waiving the permit fees can help a new business get off the ground, it may still be difficult for disadvantaged individuals to source the $100,000 or more necessary to kickstart a canna-business. “In the city of Sacramento, they need some kind of fund to help them get started with the cost of business,” Davies told the Bee. “I think it is imperative that if you do part of it, you do it right the whole way.”
The city council is well aware that they may need to adjust the program as it progresses, however. "This is going to be a learning experience for us and we are going to make some mistakes. We can't be afraid to fail,” City Councilmember Jay Schenirer said to KCRA. "This is an experiment in a lot of ways. I hope that we will learn from it and continue to make it better as we go forward."