Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and its residents want the city’s cannabis industry to reflect that.
On Friday, nearly 150 people gathered for the first of several conversations about the launch of an adult use cannabis market in California. “The war on drugs has really been a war on communities of color,” said Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, whose assembly district includes a large demographic of African American and Latino constituents. At the hearing on Friday, Jones-Sawyer described his involvement in the state’s medical cannabis regulations as an attempt to “unwind all the damage” caused by prohibition, while ensuring that the program wouldn’t worsen the Drug War’s disproportionate effects on people of color.
While upholding diversity as a value in the budding cannabis industry, the hearing on Friday also served to help community members get involved in industry. Jones-Sawyer told potential business owners to seek out licenses for cultivation and to open up grow facilities in locations such as Alameda Street, which runs through his district and is already the location for several other cannabis manufacturers.
The idea is for applicants to be able to submit licensing applications before the beginning of the year, which is when the state’s very first adult use dispensaries are set to open. Despite California having passed a legalization measure in November, currently only the criminal sanctions have been lifted; the adult use market will go into effect in 2018.
In discussions about cultural diversity and equity in cannabis business ownership, hearing attendees asked lawmakers for tangible steps they could take to ensure that historically marginalized demographics would have an equal opportunity in the green rush.
“We don’t want it to be an afterthought,” Virgil Grant, co-founder of the Souther California Coalition and California Minority Alliance, said of cannabis industry diversity, fearing that lawmakers wouldn’t prioritize it.
LA City residents not only championed diversity, but also other programs to incorporate social justice into the industry, such as cannabis donations to the homeless in exchange for a tax write-off, or bringing veterans into the industry.
As a new, yet fast growing large-scale industry, now is the time for stakeholders implement conscious values that set the cannabis industry apart from other American industries.