San Jose to study creating cannabis equity program
San Jose-based cannabis dispensary MedMen is pictured in this file photo.

After months of discussion, San Jose officials have a timeline for conducting a report which will document residents’ experiences with cannabis-related crimes and barriers to entering the legal market.

The findings could determine how the city will use more than $550,000 from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control to create a cannabis equity program.

Equity programs can help people who are negatively or disproportionately affected by cannabis criminalization to establish their own businesses in the legal market.

Data shows that while people of color are most likely to be cited, fined and jailed for cannabis-related charges, they’re not most likely to own a cannabis business in California, according to Marijuana Business Daily.

San Jose has 16 registered cannabis businesses, three of which are minority-owned.

“That’s what equity folks want, more opportunity,” said Sean Kali-rai, founder of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance. “Creating more opportunity by itself will create more diversity (in cannabis businesses).”

City officials applied for and received nearly $150,000 from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development in April 2020 to study cannabis equity. Any unused funds will be returned to the state.

Peter Hamilton, senior executive analyst to the city manager’s office of administration, policy and intergovernmental relations, said the deadline to submit the report to the state is February 2022. He said the city anticipates retaining a consultant to conduct the study by late summer.

While the report is expected to be completed in the fall, cannabis equity activist Javier Armas said city officials should prioritize any steps that can lead to an equity program and the establishment of more cannabis businesses. Armas is the co-founder of the Bay Area Latino Cannabis Alliance, an organization that helps provide Latinos with information and resources to enter the cannabis industry.

“San Jose needs to wake up and really smell the cannabis coffee, it’s a powerful movement,” Armas said. “The writing on the wall of the cannabis economic trajectory is very very clear.”

Tax revenue from cannabis sales is expected to provide the city with $17 million for fiscal year 2020-21—the most profitable year since Prop. 64 legalized recreational retail shops in 2016, according to San Jose Police Department Division Manager Wendy Sollazzi.

Kali-rai said this money can go toward the city’s essential services such as road repair and police and fire departments.

Although Armas said he mainly helps cannabis equity applicants in Oakland where a program is already established, he hopes to see more applicants from San Jose.

“San Jose has not stepped up to the cannabis plate as of yet, and we really hope that it does,” Armas said.

Kali-rai said the city can become a leader in cannabis equity if officials take time to study the industry and the progress of existing programs in cities such as Oakland and San Fransisco.

“Cannabis is one of those industries where being an early mover isn’t necessarily an advantage,” Kali-rai said. “I think the fact that San Jose has waited a little bit, surveyed the landscape and is being thoughtful moving forward, I think that’s really meaningful and important.”

Contact Stephanie Lam at [email protected] or follow @StephCLam on Twitter.

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