Oakland could very well be the most pot-friendly city in the United States.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to approve sweeping new medical marijuana expansions and combat the racial equity issue that has plagued people of color, siding with those who have most been hurt by the “War on Drugs.”
Perhaps most notably, the council voted to give half the business licenses to applicants who live within parts of Oakland that have a reputation for having higher marijuana-related arrest rates.
As far as councilwoman Desley Brooks knows, Oakland is the first city in the United States to present an “Equity Amendment ordinance in respect to marijuana.”
“When you look at cannabis industry across nation,” Brooks told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday, “it’s dominated by people who are white and they make money. And the people who go to jail are black and brown. I wanted some parity. There needs to be equity in this industry.”
Brooks authored the amendment.
Adam Steinberg, the business manager at Flow Kana a marijuana collective that stands to financially benefit from the new rules, was at the meeting. He told NBC Bay Area he thinks it's a good idea to give back to "a community that's been negatively impacted by the 'War on Drugs' and our nation's failed drug policies."
In addition, the council voted to add eight medical marijuana dispensary permits each year, and an unlimited number of marijuana-related type businesses to operate within city limits, giving a nod to the fact that delivering pot to medical card holders on bikes and Uber has been taking off recently.
All this is great news for Steinberg's company. "Oakland now has a huge opportunity to take the lead," he said, "to be the cannabis capital of California."
Even though he is white, Steinberg said he thinks the move by the council is the right one in terms of racial justice.
The decision, no matter how controversial, also means more medical marijuana money for Oakland.
Last year, the eight dispensaries already operating in the city generated roughly $4 million in taxes, Greg Minor, an assistant to the city administrator, told the council. Just imagine, he said, how much more money the city would glean with nearly 100 more pot-related businesses.
At the meeting, nearly all of the people who addressed the council were pro-cannabis, the East Bay Times and Oakland Magazine reported. But, many also were critical of a late-agenda add that requires half of the business licenses be issued to applicants living within certain swaths of the city identified as having higher marijuana-related arrest rates. Under the amendment, applicants who live in those neighborhoods would be required to maintain at least a 51 percent ownership in the business. A second amendment also includes people who had previously been arrested in Oakland and incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses.
Brooks downplayed any worries that giving business licenses to those who have been arrested for pot would yield any harm.
“Sixty seven percent of people in Oakland voted for marijuana to be a low-level priority,” Brooks said, meaning that most people in the city don’t consider being arrested for having pot a big deal. Coincidentally, the federal government decided not to prosecute Harborside Health Center in Oakland on Wednesday, after a four-year effort to seize the dispensary.
She also cited the most recent news, where a coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker and backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the nation's leading marijuana advocacy groups says it has collected 600,000 signatures, a lot more than the 365,000 needed, well ahead of the July 5 deadline. Legalizing marijuana is most likely going to be put to California voters in November.