Sacramento has an equity problem. Cannabis can help fix it

Los Angeles has a program. So do San Francisco and Oakland. But not Sacramento.

For months, members of the City Council — many of whom love to brag about being trend-setters in cannabis policy — have been dragging their feet on a program that would make the city’s rapidly growing ecosystem of cultivators and dispensaries a lot more equitable.

On Thursday, council members have another chance to change that. After an afternoon workshop, they should authorize the long-debated CORE program, finally giving people of color from poor neighborhoods the tools they need to get a foothold in the lucrative, newly legal industry.

Without such a program in place to offer would-be entrepreneurs access to mentoring, capital and cheap business permits, cannabis is likely to remain an industry dominated by wealthy, out-of-state investors and faceless deep-pocketed corporations. Not only would that be wrong for the people of color who were disproportionately hassled, arrested and imprisoned during the war on drugs, it would be wrong for Sacramento, which, like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, has a vested interest in helping its residents become self-sufficient.

For that reason, the CORE program has largely been met with mostly support by the City Council. But nailing down the specifics of it has proven to be far more difficult.

In June, for example, council members Allen Warren, Larry Carr and Rick Jennings were so confused about the program, and wary of what it would do for their constituents, that they forced a month-long delay in voting for it.

That means, even if the council approves CORE on Thursday, it will take several more weeks for staff to solicit bids for a community organization to run a new business support center, which will take a while to get off the ground. And it likely will take even longer to identify cannabis businesses willing to share space and serve as incubators for CORE participants.

Time is of the essence. But there is some reason for caution, too.

In Oakland, for example, that city’s cannabis equity program has been in place for months, but participants are still waiting to get started. First, there were problems with distributing $3.4 million in zero-interest loans.

Now, black and brown entrepreneurs who were promised 1,000 square feet of free business space if they signed leases with other cannabis businesses have found themselves waiting out construction delays. Some have even gone out of business while waiting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Sacramento can learn a lot from the mistakes of other California cities. But equity is too important to wait.