Oakland to help those hurt by war on drugs get into pot business

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland's city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move ahead with a plan to help those hurt by the war on drugs to get into the legal pot business.

Hundreds turned out in support. A city report shows in 2015, more than three-quarters of those arrested for marijuana in Oakland were African-American, and 15 percent were Hispanic.

"People have gone to jail for the exact same thing that people are now making millions and billions of dollars on," Oakland city council member Desley Brooks said.

In the new legal pot business, there are entrepreneurs like Amber Center. "I started an edibles company, Leisure Life, so I work for myself," she said.

But Brooks said most of the industry is white. "Less than 5 percent, I believe, of all cannabis operations are owned by people of color nationally," she said.

She wants Oakland to be the first to change that by requiring half of all new cannabis permits be issued to people from neighborhoods hit hardest by the war on drugs, including those with a pot conviction.

The council backed her unanimously.

The new permits will bring more competition to Oakland's already booming cannabis industry, competition that at least this dispensary says it welcomes.

"We have a long history of working together in the industry, helping each other in the industry. It's highly collaborative, as opposed to hyper-competitive," Harborside Government Relations Manager Conrad Gregory said.

Oakland's Harborside Dispensary says the new laws encourage that, letting established players offer space and resources to the new businesses in exchange for permits of their own.

In what's becoming a multi-billion dollar industry, they agree diversity is lacking. "If you go to different conferences you can see what it looks like, but I will say that Oakland is the place where we can get it right," Gregory said.
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