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  • Writer's pictureZach Drivon

Social Equity and Policy Reform

In the midst of California (and other states) broadening the scope of the public's view regarding cannabis, it is essential to discuss the harm done by past public policy. While it is necessary to look forward to the changes that policy reform brings, it is just as important to rectify past injustices that were a result of those policies.

This week, Drivon Consulting appeared before several city council meetings and county board supervisory meetings, advocating for our clients and succeeding in further securing their footholds in the Central Valley. While it felt like a victory, it also reminds us that there are still several who suffer as a result of bad policy, or who have suffered and are still paying the price. There needs to be more discussion about social equity during the commercial cannabis policy reform movement.

Social Equity is a concept that applies concerns of justice and fairness to social policy. Since the 1960s, the concept of social equity has been used in a variety of institutional contexts, including education and public administration. It boils down to the need to enact change and provide a way for those who are damaged and hurt to be made whole. This relates to the cannabis policy reform and legislation that has been enacted that legalizes cannabis in several states around the country.

While at the State level, this seems like progress - at the city and county level there is still much fear-mongering and feet-dragging. Some communities are still afraid of what having the cannabis industry in their community could mean. Even though recent studies have shown an increase in property values near commercial and industrial cannabis businesses, there is still the cry of, "Not in my backyard!" One of our clients was recently denied an opportunity because of a public outcry in a similarly scared community.

Furthermore, there remains a disparity between the total number of businesses throughout the state that have been licensed to operate, and those that are owned and operated by women or minority ethnicities. Many of these businesses have not yet been approved. There are simply not enough applicants to the state or local municipalities that have received approval, which could be due - in part - to the refusal of the cities and counties to conform with state legalization. While California has enacted legislation that has legalized cannabis use and possession (up to a limit) only 161 of California’s 482 municipalities and 24 of the 58 counties have opted to allow commercial cannabis activity of any sort. With so few businesses receiving approval of any kind, the statistics show even less representation of historically disadvantaged groups.

Social Equity & Policy Reform

Finally, there is the issue of justice to those who remain incarcerated on low-level cannabis crimes, or who have marks on their records from such crimes (that have now been decriminalized). In November 2016, California voters approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“AUMA”) via Proposition 64 with a 57% majority. AUMA directly addresses possession of recreational cannabis by legalizing the sale and use of cannabis by adults 21 years of age or older. AUMA also legalizes possession of up to 28.5 grams and recreational cultivation of up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

When AUMA legalized possession and cultivation for small-scale cannabis users, it paved the way for thousands of potential expungements of criminal records. However, this has not been an automatic process. Many don't even know the process exists to get their records expunged and thus remain with a criminal record they should no longer have. San Joaquin County recently joined San Francisco and Los Angeles counties in partnering with Code for America to automatically search for, target, and process upwards of 100,000 expungements in those counties. Illinois, by comparison, which just recently passed legalization, has opened up the possibility of 770,000 expungements.

Drivon Consulting believes in social equity, like we believe in policy reform, and we believe that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. As policy changes and public opinion slowly catch up, those who remain injured and left behind deserve to be brought forward together to have a place at the table.

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