Can A 'Cannabis Equity' Program Work In San Diego?
Speaker 1: 00:01 California's legal cannabis industry is lucrative and growing, but it's also hyper competitive as part of our series high hopes, California's pod experiment. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says some of San Diego leaders want to carve out space in the industry for folks with a specific disadvantage. Speaker 2: 00:19 We're walking into our cultivation rooms. Room one is struck would be structured here. Chauncey Bullock is showing me around a giant room in an industrial area of South central Los Angeles. It's bare and empty, but she's got plans for a premium cannabis cultivation facility. You have to create that outdoor environment inside, so how do you do that? You do it. She says with equipment to control humidity, temperature and ventilation and that to security improvements and she's got a long list of expensive renovations to turn this building into a profitable business. She says this industry is not for the weak of heart. Oh wow. You know, it's been a roller coaster ride. It took forever over a year actually to actually get into this space. Bullock had got her cultivation permit through the city of Las cannabis equity program, which offers expedited permitting to people who meet certain criteria. Speaker 2: 01:11 The state awarded LA one point $8 million as part of an incentive program established by the legislature. Full equity was set up to help those that were hit hard by the war on drugs or for those that had a cannabis conviction. I had just happened to have a cannabis conviction from this bullets. Conviction was for operating an unlicensed medical dispensary. She had to pay fines and got three years of probation. Now she's trying to do things by the book. We are trying to use some of this new opportunity through raw legalized recreational marijuana and some of the revenues that come from that industry to be able to reinvest in communities that have been harmed from the criminalization of marijuana in history. San Diego city Councilman Chris ward is working on a cannabis equity program in San Diego, but he hasn't gotten very far. He and other advocates face critics who say, these programs are akin to helping convicted drug dealers sell more drugs where it says that logic ignores the fact that while whites and blacks used marijuana at roughly equal rates, blacks have been far more likely to be arrested for it. Speaker 2: 02:15 He says now, even though pot is legal, minority communities are still on the losing end right now the only individuals who are at the front of the line are those who are predominantly white with access to capital, uh, and with access to cash. And so we've got a lot of challenges there just structurally that are necessarily leaving some individuals who want to be competitive business owners as well. Uh, in a disadvantage. How's everybody doing? Me? I've got to get some energy going. I know it's late at night, which I got to wake up a little bit. How, how's everybody doing? Jay Bowzer is cofounder and CFO of paving great futures, a nonprofit in Southeast San Diego. The teachers job skills and financial literacy. He's giving a pep talk to an evening class of formerly incarcerated young adults. How y'all doing man? Let me say, say what a chest bouncer is. Speaker 2: 03:06 One of San Diego's biggest advocates for a cannabis equity program. He says the industry wouldn't be what it is today without the innovation and entrepreneurship of communities of color. Well, I mean, you've got to think about it. If our communities have been persecuted before in a war on drugs for decades, I mean, we pretty much pioneered it. So how can the industry that our community's pioneered now that it's legal, we be locked out of it. Right? Right now San Diego has fewer than 20 legal cannabis shops open for business and only about a dozen more permits to offer thanks to a citywide cap competition to enter the legal market is fierce. Bouncer says for an equity program to succeed, San Diego has to rethink its regulations. There definitely have to change the distance. Right now I believe it's like a thousand feet from churches and daycare schools and things of that nature. Um, so we maybe you can lower it to 600 and you know that that will open up some licensed, but you just can't make it easier to get in. Speaker 2: 03:57 And then those same folks that have beginning, they're just going to kind of sweep it up. Ward says he's open to changing the city's cannabis regulations but hasn't seen much political will from the mayor's office or his council colleagues. He plans on continuing the push for a cannabis equity program in the coming year. You're joining me now is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thanks Jane. So we just heard about Ellie's equity program and your story. Tell us more about what San Diego council members, ward and Montgomery have in mind for an equity program here in San Diego. Chris ward and Monica Montgomery have met with some folks in their districts and asked them what they would like to see in a San Diego cannabis equity program. And I think what they ended up with was a fairly long list. You know, they have ideas of giving grants or funding for youth programs to nonprofits or violence prevention initiatives in communities that have been harmed in some way by the war on drugs. Speaker 2: 04:54 I think it's fairly well documented through the past several decades that you know, these long prison sentences that were pretty common practice in earlier years had really bad impacts on folks, family situations, a negative impacts on those communities as a whole. So that's certainly something that the community wants to see. However, that is, um, something that is fairly unique to the dis cannabis equity discussion in San Diego. So I think that the vision in San Diego is pretty ambitious and given the problems that we've seen in other cities, um, complaints of underfunding, uh, cannabis equity programs, you know, that's something that San Diego will have to think carefully about what they can really afford to do and that what they'll have the capacity to do access to capital is one of the biggest barriers for some people. Does their proposal address that issue at all? It doesn't address it directly, I would say. Speaker 2: 05:44 But we should also note that the status of the equity program idea right now is very much in the idea phase. Um, there have been some discussions happening at the city council committee level, um, and they've directed the city attorney's office and the independent budget analysts to um, you know, draft some language for a council policy that would create a cannabis equity program and, um, figure out, you know, what type of funding levels other cities have created and what the city of San Diego would need. Um, but really to define exactly what the equity program would be and what kind of types of things would be a part of that program that has to come out, um, through the sausage making process that happens at the council and, um, and the committees in your reporting, you found that San Diego's land use rules may also pose a hurdle. Speaker 2: 06:32 Why would reforming cannabis regulations be important there? Well, if the goal of the cannabis equity program is to help these disadvantaged groups build their own cannabis businesses and share in the profits from, from legalization, then there have to be rules on the books that allow those businesses to be created. Right now, San Diego has issued all 40, uh, permits, the maximum cap of permits under the municipal code for marijuana production facilities. Those are the businesses that run the supply chain. Basically they grow the marijuana, they manufactured into different types of products and then distribute it to the different dispensaries throughout the state. So they're under the rules right now. There is no opportunity for creating additional cultivation businesses, manufacturing, et cetera. Um, the city allows only for permits for retail dispensary's and each city council districts. So a citywide cap of 36, and uh, there's this, um, 1000 foot separation requirement from churches, schools, parks, um, other types of what they're called sensitive uses. Speaker 2: 07:33 And so the city at this point has really reached a market saturation of, for cannabis businesses under the curler current rules that exist. What the folks that I spoke with for this story said is that the city can't just create an equity program and not allow more legal cannabis businesses to exist in San Diego. The demand is there. We know that there's a huge illicit market in San Diego and in many other parts of the state. And so the question really is, can the city craft cannabis regulations where they strike that balance, where they're respecting the concerns of communities and, um, you know, limiting access for children, but also where there are enough legal stores and businesses to, to meet the demand of the market. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. Thank you, Jade. Each day this week we'll be bringing you a new story about the impact of cannabis legalization. To see all the stories in our series go to kpbs.org/pot.