Cannabis panel discusses removing barriers, ending the war on drugs

    Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco’s vision for cannabis businesses in San Jose focuses on righting the wrongs.

    For decades, residents in the east San Jose district have been victims of the country’s war on drugs. Now she wants to change that with an equity program.

    “The way that I see this is what a tragic point in history we’ve had to face,” she said. “(I) see this industry take such a turn and folks becoming billionaires through the same industry that incarcerated our young people.”

    Carrasco’s remarks on the program, which would make the industry inclusive to individuals who may have been disadvantaged by previous marijuana convictions, came as an interlude during a cannabis policy panel at Friday’s Health and Housing Summit hosted by the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits.

    The panel featured attorney Sharmi Shah, San Jose State Human Rights Collaborative Director William Armaline and former Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel.

    Since California voters turned up at the ballot box to legalize recreational marijuana, some cities across the county and the state have been rushing to push the latest brick-and-mortar business outside city lines. But some, like Mountain View, have taken a different approach: make sure it’s regulated and taxed.

    “At California League of Cities meetings we would have panels on cannabis tax and the sweet spot that we’re looking for is the level that causes business not to want to return to the black market,” Siegel said. “That’s the number that’s everyone’s trying to find. The goal is not to increase marijuana use, to reduce marijuana use, but to make sure the trade is regulated.”

    While Siegel provided his personal experience with taxing and regulating pot shops as Mountain View mayor, Armaline – who is part of the San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group – looked toward how to spend that money.

    “What are we going to do now with that multi-billion dollar market?,” Armaline said. “How can we start looking at these revenues as not just aspects of restorative justice, but to invest in the very real social problems that face our communities whether or not they’re using cannabis.”

    Shah pointed out challenges for those interested in getting into the industry. She said that there needs to be uniformity in the process.

    “One of the biggest roadblocks to obtaining any of these licenses is it’s not just a matter of filling out a form,” Shah said. “Some of these applications can be upwards of 500 pages. They’ll require a slew of attachments and plans that really, for a new industry, is difficult for them to put together.”

    The issue of the war on drugs – which has been waged by presidents for decades – was also a popular topic among panelists.

    Armaline, whose research has been on issues like drug policy and expungement, said that in the scholarly community there’s no controversy over the fact that many view the country’s war on drugs as “abysmal.” But reversing the negative mindset toward cannabis has been the goal on an international scale.

    “All of the largest international commission reports on this issue say the same thing,” Armaline said. “You have to get rid of the criminal penalties and stigmas for all those who have been prosecuted and persecuted.”

    And it was exactly that kind of thinking from Armaline that helped Carrasco change her perspective and eventually realize the benefit of an equity program.

    “I was a social worker for 25 years before I became an elected official, so I was on the other side really blaming the use of drugs and cannabis for a lot of what I was seeing,” Carrasco said. “(I didn’t) understand at that point that we’re dealing with a broken system and really struggling with what we’re starting to see on a political side.”

    Contact Grace Hase at [email protected] or follow her @grace_hase on Twitter.

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