How Legalized Pot Can Make up for the Disastrous War on Drugs

Disastrous Drug War

When recreational cannabis becomes legal in California on Jan. 2, part of the focus — in Los Angeles, at any rate — will be on “social equity.” That’s the term for a set of guidelines meant to spread legalization’s wealth to neighborhoods that have gotten the worst of the drug wars. According to draft legislation currently moving through the City Council, for every general license approved for a pot shop, one license must also be approved for social equity reasons.

I’m fully in favor of legalization — here, there and everywhere. I wouldn’t stop with marijuana, either. Across the board decriminalization would allow us to reframe addiction as a medical issue, and treat it as such. No more mandatory sentences, no more addicts in prison simply because of drug use. It would also undermine the black market, and raise tax revenues that could be channeled, in part — as Los Angeles plans to do with 20% of its marijuana taxes — into recovery and rehabilitation.

Contrary to the prohibitionist rhetoric of the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions, good people do smoke marijuana.

The city’s proposed social equity program offers a related set of responses on a larger scale, something akin to reparations for whole communities. It would provide assistance to cannabis-license applicants who have been convicted of a marijuana crime or whose relatives have been convicted, as well as to low-income applicants in neighborhoods affected by large numbers of pot arrests and companies that agree to help disadvantaged applicants.

The idea originated in Oakland, where the City Council voted unanimously in March to institute a similar licensing framework. Oakland has embraced cannabis capitalism in the two decades since medical marijuana became legal in California. But recreational weed means a whole new level of marijuana investment in the state, with a particular focus on Los Angeles. As Ryan Jennemann, co-founder of THC Design, told the Daily News in August, he moved his cultivation company south from the Bay Area to get “a foot in the [door of the] largest market in the world.”

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David L. Ulin
LA Times