OP-ED: Demand Cannabis Equity

By Carroll Fife, Oakland Justice Coalition


Do you remember childhood challenge games? I remember competitions to see who could hold their breath the longest.


It was a fun contest that required no resources. As an adult, I’ve learned that these challenges aren’t just for kids.

Holding one’s breath is actually a skill many grownups seek. Yet not without consequences.


In 2013, freediver Nicholas Melvoli lost his life trying to dive 232 feet on one single breath.


That said, how long can you hold your breath? Could you manage let’s say, 228 seconds?


Don’t worry, I’ll wait.


But unless you are David Blaine or some miracle of nature, it’s unlikely that you can achieve such a feat.


In essence this is what African Americans often do in America, and it’s not child’s play. In anticipation, in fear, in anger, with hope, we hold our breath.


While awaiting verdicts, job interviews, equity; civil rights, voting and human rights, we hold our breath.


The number 228 is not arbitrary. According to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Corporation For Economic Development (CFED), it would take an African American family 228 years to accumulate the same level of wealth as the average white American family.


Now 228 seconds doesn’t seem so bad, right?


This wealth gap stems from centuries of institutionalized racism and discrimination. Slavery, Black Codes, pig laws, Jim Crow, redlining and convict leasing are what the Community Ready Corps (CRC) refer to as the “unbroken succession of oppression.”


These are the methods used to control Black bodies and relegate them to second-class status in America.


The war on drugs and mass incarceration are examples of this criminalization of blackness. Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” explains what many activists have declared for years: racism hasn’t ended, it has transformed.


This fact was confirmed by the Nixon administration, which included Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News.


Old-school hate is recognizable when it’s loud and blunt, as in the case of President-Elect Donald Trump. Most liberals understand and detest this type of bigotry and ignorance, especially from Republicans.


But can we spot these things in friends, allies – and Democrats? That will be the test.


And we are at a critical point in history where we may replicate the failures of previous generations. We can also reject practices that continue to marginalize Black residents right here in Oakland. We can create policy that strengthens entire communities.


We can begin to fix inequities perpetuated by decades of racist legislation. Drug laws targeted and jailed Black people for the sale and use of cannabis. It destroyed generations.


Now it’s legal, and African Americans still don’t have a seat at the table.


This is unconscionable.


Councilmember Desley Brooks authored the Oakland Cannabis Equity Ordinance. Under her ordinance, 50 percent of Cannabis permits would be awarded to teams with at least one member who lives in a police beat with high marijuana arrest rates or was formerly incarcerated for a marijuana offense and the conviction arose out of Oakland.


Brooks’ ordinance is the first of its kind in the country where less than 1 percent of cannabis dispensary operations are owned by people of color. Brooks wants to make sure that communities that were historically devastated by the war on drugs now have a chance to participate in this multi billion dollar industry.


My solutions to this issue may make some people uncomfortable. It may even anger others. These feelings were common in the first civil rights movement. We must push for Oakland to continue doing the right thing for Cannabis Equity.


In doing so, we will create more ownership and job opportunities for our community; we will be able to afford to live in the Oakland we helped to make great; we will provide hope and opportunity to the next generation.


We are now in our second. Which side are you on?


I don’t expect local elected officials to do much to balance out the systemic inequity that typifies status quo policy making. Most of them are gatekeepers who will only do what they’re made to do.


We must make them step up in this instance.


Hence my expectation: that we push for equity. But don’t just hold your breath and wait for it to happen.


Oakland is doing the right thing for Cannabis Equity. You should, too. Demand Cannabis Equity.


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