(John Leyba, Denver Post file)

New Oakland laws to help Latino and black-owned pot businesses

OAKLAND, Calif. — To repair what they say was damage done to minorities targeted in the war on drugs, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday approved laws to make the city’s pot industry more inclusive of black and Latino residents.

The consensus vote of the council came despite protests from people in the cannabis industry, including several African-American women, who said the policy was too narrow and should be expanded to other areas of Oakland or they would not be eligible.

Introduced by Councilwoman Desley Brooks, the equity permits, as they are being called, were added to the 18-month undertaking by the city’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission to craft the new regulations. The city plans to issue eight new permits a year, as well as expand other marijuana businesses. Currently, there are eight dispensaries in Oakland.

“When we look at the eight we have one that is owned by an African-American. One out of eight,” Brooks said, later adding, “everybody ought to have an opportunity to compete.”

Under the new laws, half of new marijuana permits will be reserved for people who live in East Oakland or were incarcerated for a marijuana-related arrest.

Brooks’ amendment would apply to people who have lived for at least two years within six police beats in East Oakland with high marijuana arrests or were imprisoned for marijuana crimes, as requested by Councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington.

Additionally, the equity applicants must have at least a 50 percent ownership stake in the business they are seeking to permit.

The six police beats, most of which fall within Brooks’ council district, make up a fraction of Oakland’s 57 total beats. Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting requested the council expand the equity permits to other police beats, including ones in West Oakland.

The council said it plans to make amendments to the new law at a later date, which could include expanding the permits to more police beats.

Supporters of Brooks’ amendment said black residents have historically been targeted by police for marijuana crimes and cut out of an industry that is mostly run by whites in Oakland.

“We are the last ones to get access (to permits),” said another resident, Tom Coleman. “We can be the help or the consumers but we never had the access. It gives us a fair shot.”

David DeBolt covers Oakland. Contact him at 510-208-6453. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.

This story was first published on MercuryNews.com