California Governor Signs the California Cannabis Equity Act

The California Cannabis Equity Act has officially been signed into law.
California Governor Signs the California Cannabis Equity Act
Frederic Legrand/ Shutterstock

Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed the California Cannabis Equity Act (SB 1294) into law on Wednesday, authorizing the expenditure of $10 million in state funds to support so-called cannabis social equity programs. The programs assist members of communities most severely impacted by the War on Drugs that wish to enter California’s newly legal cannabis industry. The grants will be used to offer equity applicants and licensees business loans or grants, waivers for licensing fees, technical support, and other services.

Cities including Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco have already established social equity programs. State Senator Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena who authored SB 1294, told the Compton Herald in June that the measure will help expand municipal equity efforts.

“Currently, there are no state programs addressing the barriers and challenges faced by those attempting to enter this unique industry,” said Bradford. “If people of color with financial capital and high business acumen are having difficulty gaining licenses, one can only imagine the struggles individuals with zero capital and previous convictions are faced with.”

Addressing Bias in the War on Drugs

The text of SB 1294 addresses some of the disparity in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws in California.

“During the era of cannabis prohibition in California, the burdens of arrests, convictions, and long-term collateral consequences arising from a conviction fell disproportionately on Black and Latinx people, even though people of all races used and sold cannabis at nearly identical rates,” the law reads. “The California Department of Justice data shows that from 2006 to 2015, inclusive, Black Californians were two times more likely to be arrested for cannabis misdemeanors and five times more likely to be arrested for cannabis felonies than White Californians. During the same period, Latinx Californians were 35 percent more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes than White Californians.”

The law notes that this bias in the enforcement of drug laws continues to affect communities and individuals already challenged by social injustice.

“The collateral consequences associated with cannabis law violations, coupled with generational poverty and a lack of access to resources, make it extraordinarily difficult for persons with convictions to enter the newly regulated industry,” the statute continues.

Equity in the New Cannabis Economy

Bradford said that the law will help ensure that all Californians are able to reap the economic benefits of the legalization of cannabis.

“Following the 2016 voter approval of Proposition 64, legalizing adult-use cannabis, our cities and state will soon reap the economic benefits of this growing industry,” said Bradford. “The concern is, what about those who were convicted of cannabis-related charges, even within the last two years? What about entire communities [that] have endured devastating, generational impacts from the war on drugs? SB 1294 will address these issues and ensure that those who want to participate have real opportunities to join and thrive.”

Rodney Holcombe from the office of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release that the California Cannabis Equity Act will help other cities join those who have instituted social equity programs.

“The passage of SB 1294 is an important step toward creating more equity in California’s cannabis industry,” Holcombe said. “Senator Bradford’s bill – and the $10 million allocated for it – will support local programs that are minimizing barriers to ownership and ensuring the sustainability of cannabis businesses. It is our hope that this will be the first of many victories to ensure equity in this growing industry.”

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