California

Oakland's Weed Equity Program Not Helping Intended Recipients

Cannabis equity programs are growing in popularity, but do they actually work?

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|||Vito Di Stefano/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Vito Di Stefano/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Oakland's cannabis equity program was designed to help poor residents and residents in high-crime areas benefit from the cannabis gold rush. This week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the program is failing the very people it's intended to help.

One of the most Oakland things of all time, the program is a well-intentioned effort to make right by the communities harmed in the government's war on drugs. Nationally, only 4.3 percent of (legal) marijuana business owners and founders are black, while 81 percent are white. By carving out a reserved space for them in the newly-legal industry, equity efforts like Oakland's aim to correct that imbalance. Shocker: That's not what's happening.

Per the design of the equity program, applicants to work in the burgeoning industry must be city residents and earn less than 80 percent of the average city income, which is about $45,040 per year for a one-person household. Qualifying residents must also have been either convicted of a cannabis crime in Oakland sometime during the last several decades, or have lived for 10 of the last 20 years in an area that experienced disproportionately high pot arrests. Per the city's website, half of all Oakland cannabis permits must be issued to people who fit the above criteria.

The program incentivizes other businesses to pitch in. General applicants, which are often large companies, can move up in the permitting line if they provide 1,000 square feet of free business space to equity applicants. Business space for equity applicants must be provided for at least three years, so it can't just be a short-term, nominal offering that's revoked as soon as a permit is received. While no company is forced to share its space with equity applicants, doing so allows traditional applicants to set up shop sooner and break into the market before their competitors.

The issue is that many of the larger companies who claimed they would take equity growers under their wing have gone back or stalled on the promise, but they haven't forfeited their spot in line. As a result, equity growers aren't actually getting the chance they were promised, while larger growers have successfully used them to cut ahead.

One equity grower profiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, Alexis Bronson, has paid thousands of dollars in licensing fees. He was promised grow space by companies NUG and Joyous Recreation & Wellness Group. The two groups have yet to give Bronson the space he signed up to lease, and Bronson has been waiting for a year to start operating. In the meantime, he's missing out on income.

The attorney representing NUG blames Oakland's onerous permitting requirements. Since the bureaucratic process is so slow, the logic goes, it's tough for the larger companies to honor their leases with equity growers. Many of the general applicants are still waiting on building permits, for example. It's hard to tell whether this is a convenient excuse, a legitimate grievance, or somewhere in between. Perhaps an even more libertarian solution would be to reduce permitting and licensing requirements, which could ease long wait times and financial barriers to entry. Regardless, the program isn't working as intended, and equity growers are losing out on valuable time and profit.

Despite this, equity weed programs remain popular in Oakland and beyond. Other California cities, like Los Angeles and Sacramento, have rolled out similar initiatives to help low-income people with drug convictions break into the new industry. Massachusetts just recently created its own statewide equity program, with four different tracks for underprivileged would-be entrepreneurs.

In other places, the idea of special carve-outs has been far more controversial. New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon was recently lambasted for her comments to Forbes, saying minorities must be prioritized for marijuana-related licenses as the industry grows, and that issuing permits to them first is "a form of reparations." Black Lives Matter of Greater New York said Nixon's statement plays "into harmful stereotypes of African Americans as drug users and dealers," and that such measures "would not erase" the ills caused by the Jim Crow era, slavery, and other systems of oppression.

Leaders in the black community are partially right––weed equity programs rarely go far enough to right the wrongs of the drug war. As libertarian critics might point out, they merely create government-picked winners and losers, relying on arbitrary quotas and the cooperation of actors who might (unsurprisingly) try to game the system.

Expunging and down-grading convictions, banning the box that asks if job applicants have a criminal record, and changing policing practices to arrest fewer people for low-level drug offenses would likely create more meaningful results. Too often, weed equity programs are low in actual impact but high in political sexiness, easy to garner attention and curry favor for.

Oakland's situation shows that in addition to those other concerns, it's a tall order to assume that a government-run program will always work as intended.

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  1. Too often, weed equity programs are low in actual impact but high in political sexiness, easy to garner attention and curry favor for.

    Well, you can’t really get around the fact that the legalization laws were written so that the business could be taken out of the hands of individual growers and sellers and put into the hands of the investing/politically-connected class.

    So one can say “we want to undo the wrongs of the Drug War by helping y’all get started in this business,” but when what you are doing is actively taking that business out of their hands it isn’t really going to work out they way it’s being sold.

    1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $30h ? $72h?how? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new? after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now
      I couldn’t be happier.Check it out here? >> https://1kdaily.us

      1. But did you get a license to sell that weed?

  2. Without reading the article I’m going to guess California has a set of restrictive hoops you have to jump through to sell dope. I’m also going to guess that there are people in Oakland saying screw it, we’ll just sell dope the old-fashioned, illegal way.

    What a dilemma – how to carve out some exceptions from these regulatory hoops?

    Did I guess right?

    1. California now has a law that in order sell pot it has to be tested first for what I don’t know but all that does is raise the cost even more above the already high taxes on it. thus helping to keep the black market alive and police busy

      1. Has to be tested for THC and CDB content. If you don’t know your confusion/sleepy ratio, you could be in mortal danger.

    2. California has a set of restrictive hoops you have to jump through

      Restrictive hoops, yes.

      I’m also going to guess that there are people in Oakland saying screw it, we’ll just sell dope the old-fashioned, illegal way.

      Yup. Almost like they already had the infrastructure and procedures in place.

    3. Without reading the article I’m going to guess California has a set of restrictive hoops you have to jump through to sell dope.

      Being as it’s CA, that’s probably a pretty safe bet.

  3. banning the box that asks if job applicants have a criminal record

    Yeah fuck employers. Those money-grubbing capitalist exploiters have no right to screen potential employees.

    /2018 there-oughta-be-a-law progressive libertarians

    1. News article, 2025: “Activists call for stricter laws against ‘irresponsible’ employers, holding them accountable for crimes by improperly-screened employees.”

  4. Equity another word to make people feel good about themselves while not really helping anyone.

    1. Nobody achieved equity better than the Khmer Rouge.

      1. And even there, they only achieved a 25% success rate.

        I mean shit. When they were finally removed from power, 3/4ths of the population was still breathing! Slackers.

    2. Just the latest tactic in stealth Marxism.

      Equity = Equal Outcomes = Slavery = Death.

      Yay collectivism!

    3. Equity – another word politicians use to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means.

  5. How about straight up retributions for those ravaged by the drug war? That might actually affect the government that wrought it though.

  6. Oakland’s cannabis equity program was designed to help poor residents and residents in high-crime areas benefit from the cannabis gold rush.

    Wasn’t it poor communities that benefited the most from the weed economy previously?

    1. Wasn’t it poor communities that benefited the most from the weed economy previously?

      Yeah – like I was saying above, the whole point of legalization was to take the industry out of the hands of the poor and put it into the hands of the rich. Any declaration of any program to mitigate that effect is just spin.

  7. Expunging and down-grading convictions, banning the box that asks if job applicants have a criminal record, and changing policing practices to arrest fewer people for low-level drug offenses would likely create more meaningful results.

    Are you seriously advocating banning the box? That’s up to the employer whether to ask about past criminal convictions, isn’t it?

    1. They’re social justice libertarians.

    2. It’s not entirely up the employer, in the sense that they can be zapped for “negligent hiring” if they fail to do a background check on an employee who turns out to be a convicted criminal who does another crime on the job.

      Maybe some equivalent of Good Samaritan laws can cut employers a break for risky hires?

      Then it won’t be an issue of squeezing employers between danged if you do and danged if you don’t.

    3. In at least some states (I don’t know if CA is one) it’s against the terms of the legalisation of weed for people who have been convicted of drug offences to work in the weed business.

      So it’s possible they meant that it should be banned at the state level, thereby allowing people who were weed dealers previously, to continue being weed dealers now that it’s vaguely “legal”.

    4. From the context, I thought it referred to applications for cannabis licenses. Maybe I was wrong, then it’s interesting that was snuck in there.

  8. You mean a government program didn’t work? Say it ain’t so.

  9. I fully expect the Oakland council to move to repeal the law of unintended consequences.

    1. They were going to do that, but then they got high.

  10. Perhaps an even more libertarian solution would be to reduce permitting and licensing requirements, which could ease long wait times and financial barriers to entry.

    The most libertarian solution–completely legalising what is, after all, just a fucking weed–is nowhere on the table, of course.

  11. The social equity program is just a way for rich white people to get ahead of the line! C’mon people, even if they hand out a tiny space, do you guys really think they will survive going up against the Starbucks of the cannabis industry? Moreover, not everyone who has had a cannabis conviction is actually in the business! Some 19 year old who got pulled over and received a ticket for having cannabis 10 years ago might have a decent job now! Height have been in college and just got pulled over. He isn’t even thinking about starting a cannabis business. Why not make it as fair as possible. Those that have been doing this for years are first. Those that have been arrested or ticketed are next and they get financial and business support from the city!!!! Not wealthy evil people!! The money the city makes on taxes will more then take care of that cost. Next people in line will be determined by income. 50k and below, then 100k etc. It isn’t a perfect system since I just made it up right now ha, but the point is to prevent people who already have millions to find a way to get in before the rest!!! Btw, all these high taxes and regulations are actually beneficial to these guys!!! They love it because they know they have the cash to survive initially even if they are losing money!!! They also know the smaller farmers won’t survive, making it easier to gain market share. It’s all been thought out entirely by politicians and their only constituents, the wealthy!!!

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