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    Remove Cannabis Industry Restrictions and Criminal Records for Ex-Offenders

    rebeccaAs Oakland’s Citywide Elected Councilmember, and an advocate for the taxation and regulation of cannabis, I have been actively involved in Oakland’s nation-leading work for over a decade, to provide safe and responsible cannabis facilities. But there is an issue that is of great importance in our community, as well as to justice and equity more broadly, which is to make sure that there is not racial inequity or injustice in excluding people from this growing economic opportunity.

    Specifically, it is important to remove any impediments for employment to people working to turn their lives around after incarceration. That is why last week I sent a letter to California State Legislators requesting that they include removal of criminal records for ex-offenders and removal of restrictions to the cannabis industry in their regulation policies.

    As many of us know, and as a former staffer to Richard Nixon recently confirmed, the “war on marijuana” has had both the effect, and had the intention, of disproportionately targeting people of color, especially African Americans, for disparate treatment including arrest and incarceration. According to the ACLU’s “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88% of which were for possession; and African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.

    California’s SB 643 states that California’s licensing authority “may deny the application for licensure or renewal of a state license if any of the following conditions apply: …The applicant or licensee has been convicted of an offense that is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the application is made…includ[ing]…(a) felony conviction for the illegal possession for sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance.”

    It is unfair for people to be excluded from economic opportunities for engaging in conduct that is no longer widely considered illegal—under laws that have been disparately enforced. I therefore urged that the California State Legislature act to: 1) Authorize a system to expunge past arrests and convictions for cannabis-related offenses; and, 2) Remove past convictions as a reason, in itself, to exclude someone from participating in a permitted cannabis business in Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).

    The City of Oakland has a policy to encourage “ban the box” for employment (not only in the cannabis industry, but generally) to ensure that people who are working to turn their lives around are not denied the opportunity to do so. I urge that MMRSA be changed to remove barriers to opportunity, and that generally, California adopt a system to enable people to have cannabis related conduct expunged from their records.

    Oakland City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. She is working for safe neighborhoods, for local jobs and for a fresh start for Oakland.