When Californians voted to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, supporters made a compelling promise. Proposition 64 would promote “social equity” by clearing the marijuana convictions of tens of thousands of people and by helping local and mostly minority entrepreneurs receive “equity” licenses to operate marijuana businesses. So far, the state has failed on both counts.
A Los Angeles Times investigation last month found that “at least 34,000 marijuana records stills have not been fully processed by the courts” – a situation that “can have dire consequences for those seeking employment, professional licensing, housing (and) loans.” These convictions have had the most devastating impact on lower-income people.
The newspaper also revealed that the state’s new regulations repeatedly have frustrated Black, Latino and other minority cannabis-license applicants, despite follow-up legislation (Senate Bill 1294) that legislators designed to jump-start the social-equity program. Applicants “hit one bureaucratic hurdle after another,” the report added.
This Editorial Board supported Prop. 64 and continues to back marijuana legalization for social-justice and liberty related issues. Both concerns – the slow clearance rate for past convictions and the hurdles that budding entrepreneurs face getting licenses – result from California’s overly bureaucratic approach to just about everything.
The courts need to step up their game and prioritize these clearances, but we caution against putting too much stock in social-equity programs. Although they stem from an earnest desire to help those disproportionately harmed by the drug war find a place in the legal marketplace, they focus too heavily on subsidies and bureaucratic whims.
Furthermore, the state’s high taxes and Byzantine rules “have led most industry operators to close shop, flee the state or sell in the state’s illegal market,” according to Politico. One of the best arguments for legalization is it would supplant the black market. But leave it to California to impose so many hurdles on legit operators that many growers prefer the perils of illicit dealings and DEA agents.
The best way to promote equity is to create a reasonable tax and regulatory structure so that any Californian can get involved in the business.