San Jose is home to 16 legal cannabis shops—a small number considering the city’s size. But even smaller are the demographics of the dispensary owners.
None of those 16 are helmed by ethnic minorities. In a city of more than a million people that’s s almost 60 percent non-white, the statistic is particularly staggering.
On Tuesday, the City Council will consider launching an equity initiative that would make San Jose eligible for state funds to incorporate minority and lower-income dispensary workers into the local industry—a step toward correcting the racially disparate harms perpetrated by the nation’s longstanding War on Drugs.
The local program is part of a broader initiative passed by state lawmakers in 2018 called the California Cannabis Equity Act. The legislation authorized the California Bureau of Cannabis Control to fund equity programs in cities that applied for the grants.
To qualify for the equity grants, prospective grantees must make less than 80 percent of the county’s median household income, be a legal resident of the city for at least four years, have attended a San Jose public school and must have either been convicted of a marijuana possession charge or have had a parent, guardian or sibling convicted of one.
William Armaline, a San Jose State sociology professor who’s been leading the push to create a local cannabis equity program, said the criteria is designed so that the people most impacted by criminalization can reap the benefits of legalization.
“We know that people most affected by cannabis policies are working class citizens and African Americans and Latinx people,” Armaline said.
As the founder and head of the Human Rights Collaborative, a research and policy institute at SJSU, Armaline has advocated for racial equality in many of the city’s policies, from raising the minimum wage to establishing a cannabis equity program.
“Marijuana convictions stay with people for the rest of their lives, especially with the cost of living here,” he told San Jose Inside in an interview.
As it stands, not only in San Jose but in the rest of the state, pot business owners are predominantly white, rich and male. Most of them have clean criminal records, which is a requirement when applying for small business loans and meeting the local regulatory framework. Those strict requirements shut out those who have been convicted of selling and using marijuana—something that they’re now allowed to consume and sell legally.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the equity bill in 2018, said he hoped it would correct that socioeconomic disparity. In authorizing the bill, Brown explained how it could potentially ensure that “persons most harmed by cannabis criminalization and poverty be offered assistance to enter the multibillion-dollar industry as entrepreneurs or as employees with high-quality, well-paying jobs.”
According to stats released by then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris, in 2015—the year before Prop. 64 won voter approval to decriminalize pot use—almost two-thirds of felony weed charges were levied against Latino and black people, despite their combined numbers comprising less than 45 percent of California’s overall population. By contrast, white people accounted for about a third of felony pot convictions, despite totaling 35 percent of the statewide population.
Armaline said he believes an equity program in San Jose will not only pave the way for black, Latino and Asian shop owners and managers, but will go a long way in quelling detractors of newly-relaxed cannabis laws.
“Hopefully there will be less fear-mongering,” he said.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for March 26, 2019:
- The city council will expand their Safe Parking Pilot Program to two additional sites in San Jose. The current pilot program allows homeless individuals to sleep in their cars so long as they are in city-designated spaces. The city will add up to 50 new homeless households be approving the new sites. Low-income housing nonprofit LifeMoves will manage the eligibility and screening process for households seeking to stay at the three sites. LifeMoves staff will be at the sites weekdays, and security will be provided at night. Participants will be given a 30-day permit which can be renewed. Should the proposal be approved, it would come at an annual cost of $100,000.
- A nearly 60,000-square-foot expansion of the San Jose Behavioral Health Hospital is up for consideration. If approved, the facility at 455 Silicon Valley Road would essentially double in size. At the center of the expansion is a new wing for an adult program for non-medical treatment and a new crisis center for more serious injuries. The project is set to add an estimated 80 beds.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260