When Californians voted to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016, supporters made a compelling promise. Proposition 64 would promote “social equity” by removing marijuana convictions from tens of thousands of people and helping local and mostly minority entrepreneurs receive “equity” licenses to operate marijuana businesses. So far, the state has failed on both counts.
A Los Angeles Times investigation last month found that “at least 34,000 marijuana registrations have not been fully processed through the courts” – a situation that “can have dire consequences for those seeking employment, professional license, housing (and) loans“. These convictions had the most devastating impact on low-income people.
The newspaper also revealed that new state regulations have repeatedly frustrated black, Latino and other minority cannabis license applicants, despite follow-on legislation (Senate Bill 1294) that lawmakers have designed to kick-start the social equity agenda. Candidates are “hitting one bureaucratic hurdle after another,” the report adds.
This editorial board supported Proposition 64 and continues to support the legalization of marijuana for issues of social justice and freedom. Both concerns — the slow rate of clearing past convictions and the hurdles aspiring entrepreneurs face obtaining licenses — stem from California’s overly bureaucratic approach to just about everything.
Courts need to step up their game and prioritize these clearances, but we caution against the focus on social equity programs. Although they stem from a sincere desire to help those who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs find a place in the legal market, they focus too much on subsidies and bureaucratic whims.
Additionally, high state taxes and Byzantine rules “led most operators in the industry to close up shop, flee the state, or sell in the illegal state market,” according to Politico. One of the best arguments for legalization is that it would supplant the black market. But leave it to California to impose so many hurdles on legitimate operators that many producers prefer the perils of illicit transactions and DEA agents.
The best way to promote fairness is to create a reasonable tax and regulatory structure so that every Californian can get involved in the business.