CA marijuana social equity advocates demand help, threaten to sue state

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A coalition of stakeholders from across California joined forces to deliver a message to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature: Help victims of the war on drugs get into the legal cannabis industry or face a court fight.

Kika Keith, president of the Los Angeles-based Social Equity Owners and Workers Association, and other social equity backers – including state Sen. Steven Bradford – asserted Monday that local governments and the state have fallen short in attempts to right the wrongs done to minority communities by the war on drugs and called upon lawmakers and the governor to address the issue.

The social equity advocates said they’re pushing for two bills currently before the Legislature:

  • Senate Bill 603, which would help offset marijuana business license fees for qualified social equity applicants.
  • Senate Bill 398, which would establish a new oversight committee to watch how state social equity grants are used.

If something isn’t done, Keith said, the Social Equity Owners and Workers Association (SEOWA) is prepared to file a lawsuit against the state for violating the 2018 California Cannabis Equity Act.

“The state of California has failed to achieve its lofty policies,” said Keith, whose SEOWA is one of 11 groups that comprise the new California Cannabis Equity Alliance.

“We stand here to give notice that we are prepared to file a writ of mandate against the state of California for the injustice inflicted upon us, because there has been no oversight” of state grant monies given to various social equity programs around California.

Keith said she has spoken with Nicole Elliott, Newsom’s senior adviser for cannabis, and also sent a letter to the governor outlining the advocates’ position and setting a May 31 deadline for a response – or else a lawsuit would ensue.

Elliott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bradford, a state senator from Los Angeles County, noted that although California has doled out roughly $55 million of state money to localities such as L.A. for social equity program support, “it’s far from enough.”

“Black and brown people were locked up in jails and denied freedoms for the very same thing that is enriching the wallets and lives of many white entrepreneurs today,” Bradford said.

“We need to give people of color real opportunities to get into the legal cannabis market by helping them.”

Bradford said he’s hoping California will set aside an additional $50 million for social equity through the state budget process this year, including:

  • $30 million for direct financial assistance to social equity applicants.
  • $20 million to fund local social equity programs.

The social equity advocates also issued a statement blasting Newsom’s recent state budget proposal as “racist.”

They pointed out that the governor’s California Comeback Plan calls for $126 million in funding for “police enforcement against traditional cannabis operations,” which the advocates claim “dwarfs” the $15.5 million Newsom’s proposal set aside for social equity programs.