Opinion

Labor, business together on cannabis retail

An illustration of cannabis in California. (Image: Bruce Stanfield, via Shutterstock)

When California voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, they envisioned a robust legal cannabis market with substantial tax revenue for our state, improved access, and relief for communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the failed “War on Drugs.”

Almost three years later, we see a cannabis market constrained by local bans on retail sales and frustratingly slow licensing processes. An alarming 77 percent of California cities have banned cannabis retailers altogether. Additionally, burdensome licensing requirements have forced many nonprofit medical collectives in the state to close their doors.

Nationwide, less than 6% of cannabis business owners identify as Hispanic/Latino, and even fewer, just over four percent, identify as African American.

Many Californians who would like to use cannabis for relief are essentially blocked from access to it, causing unnecessary suffering.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians rely on cannabis for relief. Many of them are seniors and people with disabilities like the homecare clients UDW members care for. But local bans have created vast areas of the state that are “cannabis deserts” where patients or their caregivers must drive long distances to obtain their medication. Others are forced to purchase cannabis on the unregulated market because driving is not a viable option.

Seniors and people with disabilities, and those who care for them, deserve better than a dysfunctional market that disregards their needs. This dysfunctional market also prevents people of color from entering and succeeding in the cannabis marketplace.

Nationwide, less than 6% of cannabis business owners identify as Hispanic/Latino, and even fewer, just over four percent, identify as African American. This is especially troubling because the spirit of most legalization efforts is to reduce the burden of drug enforcement and reinvest in these communities.

California leads the nation in minority-owned businesses in general, but not when it comes to cannabis. It’s time to change this.

Even in the small percentage of cities that allow retail sale or delivery, many small business owners of color cannot afford to navigate the bureaucratic challenges associated with obtaining legal cannabis licenses. Many of these business owners invested in the promise of a legal and functional cannabis market, now face no other choice but to operate without licenses.

On Proposition 64, the voters made clear their desire for a vibrant cannabis market to which all Californians can have access.

A growing illicit cannabis market post-legalization is unacceptable. The only way to stop this is to ensure that there are sufficient legal retailers to meet demand.

Unions and chambers of commerce rarely see eye-to-eye, so it is worth noting that UDW and the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce are co-sponsoring AB 1356 (Ting-D) which will address these issues of access and economic opportunities and allow the Golden State’s cannabis market to flourish.

AB 1356 would require local jurisdictions where more than 50 percent of residents who voted in favor of Proposition 64 to grant retail and medical dispensary licenses equal to 25 percent of the number of on-site liquor licenses granted. This would result in more business growth, job creation, and economic opportunities as well as increased access for seniors and people with disabilities who rely on cannabis. Labor and business leaders are often at odds with matters of public policy, so we are proud to find common ground on an issue of importance for all Californians.

On Proposition 64, the voters made clear their desire for a vibrant cannabis market to which all Californians can have access. AB 1356 is a critical step towards realizing that vision. Without action, people like those we represent will be left out of both the benefits of using cannabis for relief and enjoying its economic rewards. We urge all Californians to reach out to their lawmakers to support this bill.

Editor’s Note: Doug Moore is the executive director of UDW (AFSCME Local 3930), a union representing over 110,000 In-Home Supportive Services providers. Julian Canete is the president & CEO of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce


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