Goliath, Meet David

by on August 1, 2023 · 6 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego

Roll up for Cannabis Social Equity

By Terrie Best

Big cannabis and social justice are having a showdown and it’s not pretty. Nor is it helpful to the most vulnerable citizens in our city – the sick and dying patients who use cannabis to improve their quality of life and those under-served and over-policed communities so wounded they require a whole renaissance of repair.

Rooting out inequity in public policy is part of San Diego’s Strategic Plan. Under the “Foster Regional Prosperity” portion it states:

Increase access to opportunities for ownership of and employment in small, locally owned businesses, as well as key industries.

If we are to follow the city’s plan, there’s no more debating cannabis social equity. We are doing this, using armies of powerless people and a fledgling law.

At a recent City Land Use and Housing Committee meeting, development services staff gave an informational presentation about the plan – to give priority licenses to persons arrested and formerly incarcerated for cannabis- is going so far. The presentation was purely informational but lawyers for the city’s cannabis retail operators showed up to vomit all over it anyway. They are afraid of the competition new licenses will bring.

The attorney for March and Ash, the largest license holder in all of San Diego county, found the concept “confusing” and that the social equity plan “creates more questions for her.”

Even though this was an informational agenda item, both attorney’s sent by corporate cannabis want staff to “slow down” on social equity. Basically the message was “Just slow down on providing information, will you?”

Are we to delay justice because it isn’t working for those who already have their stake in the cannabis industry?

Patient advocates who have been around awhile have seen the city retail cannabis operators in-fighting since the very first sales permit was a gleam in the eye of the very first cannabis attorney. These early folks were finding themselves in need of all manner of land use and legal experts, when a month prior, they were a fairly simple sales operation. And, due to the sheer numbers of retail outlets around them, they were selling cannabis with little risk back then. The early industry thrived, serving plenty of patients and it changed the game in terms of patient access and financial security for the operators.

But when the 2014 cannabis ordinance was created with all its land-use traps, caps and bans it soon set up a cut throat landscape where one cannabis project could wipe another out, and a strip of ice plant erroneously named “park land” could end your hopes and see the end of your life’s work. Because of caps, cannabis retail permitting became somewhat of a bloodbath. It was ugly and unnecessary and the blame rests squarely with the drug preventionists and the city officials who listened to them and allowed unscientific, non-evidence-based fearmongering to hijack common sense cannabis regulations.

Still, those permit-hopefuls who fought dirtiest usually ended up with the permits (and the state licenses to follow after 2017 when Prop 64 was implemented). Early on, one group organized and hired a couple of lobbyists. That group of licensed shops is still dominating the industry in San Diego except for a few retailers who refused to join because of the group’s tactics.

The United Medical Marijuana Coalition’s attorney and lobbyists are now attacking social equity as witnessed in their Land Use Committee public comments. And, whether effective or not, they’re probably doing plenty of opposition behind closed doors at City Hall.

How do they adopt the misconception that they themselves should be the arbiters of who gets to be in the industry and where retail outlets can be located?  They even publicly questioned whether “these people,” Black and brown folks, could even succeed in an industry the monied-interests firmly believe belongs to them.

Social equity is a public service to mitigate inequity and harm. Why does a group of folks who already have their stake, and fought dirty to get it, feel entitled to influence how the repairs are made to those who have no stake and have been left out?

Keep in mind, there is state grant money on the table for cities who wish to enact social equity programs. Are these cannabis lawyers suggesting we forgo potentially millions to protect their clients’ monopoly?

Clearly, their bottom lines out-paces any desire for social justice. But they’ve had the licensed industry in San Diego to themselves for nearly 10 years. Before that they sold cannabis without licenses or permission from the city and raked in the mostly untaxed cash.

I can think of no other industry that gets to carve out an exemption to the city strategic plan and keep others out by using municipal land-use tricks and stigma. The city should not sanction this.

You can chalk it up to capitalism but focusing negativity on traumatized people with less than you is something beyond just protecting your bottom line.

Still, self-reliance is a powerful thing and there is plenty of power coming out of those organizing to succeed in this industry. I don’t think the currently permitted can even know what is coming.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcus Boyd August 2, 2023 at 5:17 pm

Thank you for so clearly pointing out the blaintant attempts by corporate cannabis to defend the disparities which Prop. 19 was crafted to correct.


Terrie Best August 4, 2023 at 4:27 am

Thanks for reading Marcus! We all should re-read Prop 64. Here is a refresher for those who may not recall how many equity opportunities there were. https://www.counties.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/glenn_backes_nov_28_for_csac.pdf


Frank Gormlie August 3, 2023 at 12:13 pm

This is going to be Terrie’s regular monthly column.


Terrie Best August 4, 2023 at 4:29 am

Thanks to the Rag’s faith in me over the years!


Jules August 11, 2023 at 12:01 pm

Excellent article. This issue needs more press coverage.


Terrie Best August 12, 2023 at 8:32 am

Thanks for reading, Jules!


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