Oakland expands marijuana license diversity program

The city council in Oakland, California, expanded a groundbreaking but controversial cannabis business license program that supporters say is needed to help reverse the underrepresentation of minorities in the industry – while opponents charge the plan unfairly excludes other deserving candidates.

The council first approved the Equity Permit Program in May 2016, stipulating that half the city’s marijuana business licenses would go to people who have been convicted of marijuana-related charges, as well as those who, in the past two years, have lived in six of the police beats hardest hit by the War On Drugs.

By singling out the War on Drugs, the rules address one of the biggest barriers to entry for minorities: drug-related convictions.

The program approved Tuesday expands equity license eligibility to people convicted of marijuana crimes since 1996 and those who have lived in the 21 police beats hardest hit by the drug war for at least 10 of the past 20 years, according to the East Bay Times. Their incomes must also be below 80% of the average median in Oakland, the newspaper reported.

The city also plans to spend $3.6 million – mostly from cannabis tax revenue – to hire a consultant and provide no-interest loans and other aid to assist equity licensees in launching businesses, the East Bay Times reported.

Not everyone was happy with Tuesday’s outcome, however, because of a new amendment calling for general permit applicants to have established a minimum three-year residency in Oakland. Foes said the stipulation might force existing businesses to leave town and potentially affect the equity program’s funding.