Erika D. Smith

If Sacramento's cannabis industry goes corporate, these three men will be to blame

Jars of cannabis are on display at first Hemp and Cannabis Fair at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
Jars of cannabis are on display at first Hemp and Cannabis Fair at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. The Tribune

If you’re worried about wealthy investors turning Sacramento’s homegrown cannabis industry into California’s first outpost for Big Marijuana, you should be. In fact, right about now you should be panicking.

Once again, the City Council has delayed approving a set of programs that would help cash-strapped, small businesses — particularly those run by black entrepreneurs — establish a foothold in the cannabis industry before it’s too late. And this time around, the delay, which will last until August, can be traced to three people who should be doing everything in their power to speed up the process.

I'm talking about Allen Warren, Larry Carr and Rick Jennings. The only black members of the Sacramento City Council.

The three of them certainly talk a good game about wanting to create a cannabis equity program for their constituents, many of whom are poor people of color. But the ignorance, laziness and disinterest that they've displayed about this issue so far — an issue that has been laid out in publicly available staff reports for months — speaks volumes more.

Take the last Tuesday's council meeting. Warren, Carr and Jennings actually tried to bluff their way through a public hearing on a ordinance that would've made it easier for entrepreneurs to afford a license to open a cannabis business.

If approved, it would be an essential component of the city’s long-debated cannabis equity program, known as CORE, which would right the wrongs of the drug war by offering financial assistance to black and brown businesspeople who live in struggling neighborhoods, mostly within districts represented by Warren, Carr and Jennings.

Instead, a vote on the ordinance was delayed, along with the larger equity program, after the discussion sunk into a muddled, uninformed mess. Rather than arriving prepared, all three men took turns conflating the CORE program and the cheaper business licenses with an ongoing “nexus study" on how neighborhoods and residents are being affected by legal weed.

Warren rubbed his bald head in confusion.

“We’ve been talking about an equity program of inclusion and yet we still haven’t done it," he said from the dais, "and we continue to advance the ball on this other stuff and we’ve not (helped) people who have been traumatically impacted by this industry before it was legal. Meanwhile, we still haven’t addressed the nexus study. The impact fee for the nexus study. I don’t know when the study is going to be done.”

Jennings admitted that he was “just not up to date” and “didn’t have all the information” that his colleagues did. He recommended the council hold a workshop, presumably after the council's summer recess ends in August.

“We could have a complete conversation," he said, "whether it be the nexus study, whether it be the permit process, whether it be the equity.” He wants more input on the policies that were largely crafted at the committee level.

Carr, of course, agreed.

“I think we all need to gather some more information. The problem is, in order to do equity, as I understand it, we have to do a nexus study to determine exactly who has been impacted. And we couldn’t do the nexus study until we drafted the RFP. And then that took a long time."

Uhm, not quite.

"Meanwhile, we have let dispensary licenses go on and we let manufacturing licenses go out. And the people who are looking to us, looking at it from the equity perspective say, ‘Hey, we’re trying to decide how to divide up the pie.’ But somebody’s eating the pie as we’re trying to decide it. So that’s the frustration in the community."

Yeah, not really.

Cannabis policy isn't easy to understand. But it’s not that hard either.

All one has to do is pick up the phone and ask the city's pot czar, Joe Devlin, for a tutorial. Or download a staff report and read it. Or, better yet, pull up video of Law & Legislation Committee meetings and watch how the policies were hashed out in the first place.

Carr says he has done some of this. I imagine Warren and Jennings have as well. But whatever they learned clearly didn't sink in and now small business owners who were counting on the City Council to act before its summer recess will continue to lose out as wealthy, mostly white investors use July to further saturate Sacramento's cannabis market, plunking down thousands of dollars for business licenses.

So much for getting that piece of the pot pie.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith