LOS ANGELES (CN) – As Los Angeles prepares for the legalization of recreational marijuana in just over a month, city leaders on Monday discussed a program to benefit low-income communities hit hardest by past cannabis laws.
Communities targeted by law enforcement in the past would benefit from the city’s Social Equity Program, which would give residents the opportunity to enter the cannabis industry as employees and business owners.
Cat Packer, executive director of LA’s Department of Cannabis Regulation, outlined past cannabis policies and their impact on communities across the city – specifically low-income neighborhoods and those with mostly black and Latino residents.
Compton resident Will English-Robinson, 53, will take advantage of the program and become a cannabis business owner. At 39, Robinson was convicted of conspiracy to transport marijuana while working at a postal delivery and packaging business.
“I was sentenced to 18 years, seven months,” said English-Robinson, who was released from prison earlier this year. “I was eligible under the Obama administration for a reduced sentenced, because I fit that criteria of a non-violent offender.”
English-Robinson said his incarceration hurt his marriage, and he missed out on his children’s birthdays and graduations. He shared his story with the committee this morning.
“I just told them what that did to me, how it hurts families,” he said.
Those with prior marijuana-related convictions would be given priority in the program. Giving back to local communities is also something that will be addressed, said Donnie Anderson, co-founder of the Southern California Coalition, adding it makes sense for the new businesses to give back to after-school programs.
“And not just basketball, but STEM programs, giving back and restoring hope for residents when hope is gone,” Anderson said.
Last month, several City Council members said they wanted to define land-use issues with the draft regulations before taking a final vote, including what impact the new industry would have on areas that are zoned for manufacturing and what will be done to combat saturation of dispensaries and the number of licenses that will be issued.
On Monday, committee discussed buffer zones around schools, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, libraries and public parks, along with requirements for specific businesses like commercial delivery services, micro businesses and requirements for testing, manufacturing and distributing.
While the city builds its framework for the cannabis industry, the ground moved beneath its feet this past week with the state issuing emergency rules and regulations for commercial cannabis. This warrants changes to the city’s rules and regulations draft, Packer said.
The state’s new requirements include requiring licenses for those trimming plants, infusing cannabis and packaging and labeling products. Packer said some or all will be added to the city’s draft ordinance.
California will issue its first recreational licenses on Jan. 1, 2018.