Cannabis and Equity: Why Did the “Emerald New Deal” Fail?

Cannabis and Equity: Why Did the “Emerald New Deal” Fail?
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After spending 31 years in prison, Charles Reed came home to Oakland, CA in 2017, and didn’t like what he saw. For Reed and others recently incarcerated—a population for whom he prefers the term “returning family member”—there were no government-funded job-training, or counseling tailored to people who had adjusted to the numbing, controlling rigor of institutional life suddenly confronted with the dizzying choices of freedom. There was no one there to even teach him to turn on a smartphone. On top of that, the city looked horrible. “Oakland was full of helpless, homeless people,” he said. There was trash everywhere. Poverty was out of control What went wrong? The “New Cotton” During Reed’s time away, Oakland became possibly one of America’s most cannabis-friendly cities, a metamorphosis that has been nearly continuous—and that’s supposed to have had immense benefits for the city. The freewheeling early-aughts heyday of “Oaksterdam,” when the city became the first in the US to regulate medical marijuana, is more than a decade in the rearview. In the adult-use legalization era, Oakland is considered a model of “social equity”: the concept that cannabis legalization should uplift people who have suffered most from the drug war’s over-policing and over-incarceration. Yet despite issuing hundreds of equity licenses, and despite collecting $7 million a year in annual local cannabis-tax revenue, and despite setting aside startup capital and reserving business licenses for people deemed drug-war harmed, Oakland hadn’t managed to use legalization to solve all of its problems. Worse, the cannabis industry hasn’t been the economic windfall to the Black and brown community it was advertised. “The only benefit of legalization that I’ve seen is that you can smoke it without worrying about police bothering us—that’s it,” Reed said. Meanwhile, he adds, most Black participation in cannabis is at the ground level:…

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