The craziness of the Trump election must have blinded me to other strange political developments. For example, I was surprised to learn, courtesy of the Sacramento Bee, that Sacramento officials have been pursuing for months a plan to make the city a regional hub for California’s marijuana industry.
Although I have been a proponent of legalized marijuana for 50 years, believing that people can bear only so much reality, I don’t relish the idea of Sacramento becoming the pot capital of the Central Valley. I prefer the image of Sacramento as the city of trees or even the farm-to-fork capital. Shouldn’t there be a referendum on the issue? Shouldn’t there be a 10-year plan on the values we residents want to foster in our city?
As surprised as I was by the pot plan, I was more amazed to learn that a call for race-based quotas in the emerging pot industry is gaining some traction. According to a Sunday Bee story, leaders in the African American community last week asked the City Council to make sure minority populations get a guaranteed share of marijuana business opportunities and taxes. They argued that minorities, especially blacks, were victimized by disproportionate criminal prosecutions during the nation’s war on drugs. Presumably, compensation is in order.
Betty Williams, past president of the Sacramento NAACP, asked the council to consider setting aside up to 40 percent of marijuana permits in the city for minority-owned businesses. The leaders also urged the city to consider offering interest-free loans to cover marijuana business permit fees.
Their call was inspired by the city of Oakland, which recently adopted a “race and equity” plan to reserve 50 percent of marijuana-related business licenses for people who were either jailed for marijuana convictions in the city or had lived for 10 years or more in one of 21 city police beats with disproportionate marijuana arrests.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the advocates raised “very compelling concerns” about how marijuana-enforcement practices have hurt minority communities. He also said the City Council would look to ensure that the same populations don’t face discrimination when it comes to getting licenses to operate in the legal medical and recreational marijuana industry.
Here are some questions I have:
- Do we as a society owe compensation to all individuals imprisoned for marijuana offenses? Should a poor white from Rio Linda be treated differently from a poor black from Meadowview?
- Were minority communities hurt only because of the high number of incarcerations for marijuana? Is it possible widespread marijuana use is a poor building block for a strong community?
- What message does such a policy send to impoverished individuals who chose to obey the law and work in low-paying jobs? Why not assist them?
- Are middle-class minority individuals with no criminal record to be given special consideration?
- Finally, are those who were caught selling marijuana the best candidates for entrepreneurial enterprises? Shouldn’t the city seek out the kingpins who were savvy enough to elude drug crackdowns and subsidize their proven talents?