By Sarah Weiss
The War on Drugs was never really about the drugs.
As the newly legal cannabis industry continues to boom across the United States, with multi-millionaire celebrities like Seth Rogan and Martha Stewart cashing in on the craze, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that many people are still sitting in jail on marijuana charges while a predominantly white demographic engulfs the newly legal market. The Oregon Cannabis Equity Act is a legislative attempt to rectify the damaging racist legislation, like the War on Drugs, and their lasting effects on marginalized communities.
The War on Drugs — a campaign launched by President Nixon in the early 70’s — created American legislation that unfairly targeted Black people and other minority groups in the United States. Decades later, the War on Drugs continues to disproportionately affect Black communities and people of color, particularly when it comes to cannabis. While both white and Black groups have historically used and sold drugs at similar rates, today 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession are Black.
In recent years, it appears that whether someone is praised as a cannabis entrepreneur or written off as a “drug lord,” has largely been determined by the color of that person’s skin.
The Oregon Cannabis Equity Act
Oregon has introduced legislation that aims to fight the lasting repercussions of the War on Drugs. The Oregon Cannabis Equity Act is legislation that was introduced in early 2021. Currently, the act is still in its drafting stage and has not yet been voted on by the senate – the first step in making the act become law. If passed, the law will be enacted August 22nd, 2022.
If you’d like to read the bill in its entirety, 40+ pages of legal jargon and all, feel free. I have also taken the liberty of breaking it down for you (you’re welcome).
The major portions of the bill are as follows:
The Cannabis Equity Board
Cannabis Equity Licensing
Cannabis On-Premises Consumption Licensing
Cannabis Delivery Licensing
Shared Processing Licenses
Convictions and Arrests + Data Reporting
Medical Marijuana Program
As you can see, the bill includes legislation that would allow for legal cannabis delivery in Oregon, as well as on-site consumption. This means in the next five years you could have your bud delivered to your front door along with your Domino’s, or you could spend Friday night trying a sample flight of different strains in a smoke lounge.
Additionally, the creation of shared processing licenses would allow for multiple processors to operate under one roof – reducing overhead costs which could lead to a reduction in price across extract and edible companies. We’re very excited about these possibilities, and will delve into them more in later posts.
For now, let’s stick to the issue at hand: equity in the Oregon cannabis industry.
The Cannabis Equity Board
The Cannabis Equity Board is essentially a board of directors created to oversee Oregon’s cannabis businesses. The board exists separately from, but within, the governor’s office, containing nine governor-appointed members. A Cannabis Equity Board member is a salaried position with a four-year term. Members appointed to the board must have prior knowledge of the cannabis industry and may not hold any other public office positions. Five of the nine board members may not have any financial interest in cannabis-based businesses.
The board members must have representation from the following groups: licensed healthcare representatives; cannabis producers, processors, and retailers; Equity operators; and representatives of community-based organizations that support individuals who are American Indian, Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, or Latine.
The board will oversee the following things:
Audit applications for Oregon Equity Licensing
Manage funding allocations from the Cannabis Equity Fund
Regularly report demographics under all cannabis licenses in Oregon
Oversee, measure, and report the outcomes of the Cannabis Equity Act
Cannabis Equity Licensing
Equity Licensing will be available to entities of which over 51% is owned by individuals who are residents of Oregon and meet the following requirements:
Has been convicted of a marijuana-related crime in any state & whose income does not exceed the area’s median income
Is American Indian, Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, or Latine, or is a member of another minority group that shows historically disproportionate community arrest rates for marijuana related crimes.
The bill also states that applications filed for equity licensing must be processed within 30 days of submission, a clause which will allow for these minority-owned businesses to open and operate within a small time frame. The OLCC will also be required to provide support, both financial and otherwise, to applicants throughout the application process as well as after licensure.
Convictions and Arrests
Under the Cannabis Equity Act, persons charged or convicted of “Qualifying Marijuana Offenses” are eligible to apply to have these offenses removed from their records. This effectively moves to decriminalize cannabis and wipe records clean of acts that, although they were not at the time, are now considered legal under current Oregon state law.
Qualifying Marijuana Offenses are defined as follows:
Possession of less than one ounce of dried leaves, stems, and flowers of marijuana
Conduct that is now considered legal under ORS 475B.301, like the production or storage of four or less homegrown cannabis plants.
Child Neglect and Endangering the Welfare of a Minor charges that involved possession of less than one ounce of dried leaves, stems, and flowers of marijuana, or conduct now legal under ORS 475B.301
Setting Aside Convictions + Arrests
A person who has been convicted, arrested for, or otherwise charged with a qualifying marijuana offense may apply to have the record set aside.
Persons filling this application are not required to pay a filing fee, submit fingerprints, or submit to a background check.
If no objection to the application is filed within 30 days, the applicants record will be expunged and the relevant court documents sealed.
Upon clearing, the conviction or arrest is considered to have never happened, and persons involved may answer legal questions as such.
Probation, Parole, + Post-Prison Supervision
If you are an OMMP cardholder, abstaining from marijuana and marijuana products may not be a condition of your parole or probation
Forbidding a person from possessing or using marijuana may not be a condition of parole or probation unless abuse of marijuana was a factor in the original conduct.