Will California’s Green Rush Leave People of Color Behind?

On January 1, 2018, the gates to California’s “green rush” will swing open, and everyone from growers to retailers is jockeying to take advantage of the state’s expanding marijuana market. In addition to medical marijuanarecreational marijuana for adult use will soon be legal.

While marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law — creating a tricky legal situation for California — advocates hope the slow wave of state-by-state legalization will change that picture.

But the question of who gets to take advantage of the green rush is proving to be a challenge, with some critics arguing that people with prior experience in the market — and the drug convictions to go along with it — are being cut out of the picture. As the state applies itself to business basics like connecting cannabis-related businesses with banking services, some are focused on another issue: the almost half a million people arrested for marijuana-related offenses in the last decade.

While state law broadly governs the legalization of the industry, individual legislative bodies, like city councils and boards of supervisors, are passing specific legislative packages to determine the fine-grained details. Some deal with zoning matters, for example, while others set standards for permits.

To obtain a permit for a cannabis-related business, the prospective owner must successfully pass a background check. Past drug convictions can cause people to fail, depriving them of access to the legal market for a product they’re incredibly knowledgeable about.

But past drug convictions aren’t the only issue at stake. California, like other states, has an extremely racialized arrest and incarceration rate. People of color are disproportionately impacted by drug convictions and this is evidence of racist policy and law enforcement practices – not an increased likelihood to commit crimes. As Amanda Chicago Lewis put it at Buzzfeed, this appears to be a whites-only weed boom,

So how do we…

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