Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr Creative Commons.

Now More Than Ever: Why Equity and Fairness Matter in Fresno’s Legal Cannabis Industry

By Cesar Casamayor and Gidai Maaza

As we begin to digest the results of Fresno’s historic legalization of cannabis, we must unify toward an industry that works for everyone, not just the few—especially those harmed in cannabis criminalization. We must band together as the city crafts regulations that will lay the groundwork for the industry and our city for decades to come via their social equity policy.

A robust social equity policy will ensure the community is able to participate at every level of the industry so our communities who have been ravaged by the war on drugs can prosper in this new economy and help people climb out of poverty.  Without a real social equity policy to ensure this access, the industry will favor big business and exclude local entrepreneurs from a fighting chance to achieve success in this industry, further expanding the wealth gap and the needs of Fresneans.

Imagine if the very industry we’ve legalized—that has historically criminalized young Black and Brown people—could provide social and economic justice.

Imagine if that very industry could begin to undo the harm and trauma of being incarcerated, of being dehumanized, of being shamed in order to make a way for their community and family.

Imagine if the very industry we’ve legalized that has historically criminalized young Black and Brown people for selling cannabis in the informal economy could offer real pathways toward entrepreneurship and employment in the legal economy.

We have an opportunity to make what is imaginable a reality for the young Black boy, young Brown boy, the family, southwest/southeast Fresno communities and, in return, all of Fresno.

A Fresno that is fair and equitable will improve all public sectors. Fresno’s cannabis industry must:

  • Expand access and opportunity for generational wealth and prosperity for those harmed by the war on drugs. Provide re-entry support to returning citizens, including wellness, housing and living expenses for three months, training program access to join the legalized cannabis industry, and access to existing resources for high school and higher education, jobs placement, entrepreneurship, and business development support, and healthcare.
  • Institutionalize integrity in the industry. DO NOT expand criminalization in efforts of compliance, instead invest in real pathways into the industry for those from the informal economy.
  • Pathways to prosperity in the industry. Ensure licensing in all levels goes to the formerly incarcerated and over-criminalized communities harmed by the war on drugs in commensurate rates to their arrests for cannabis-related offenses during the war on drugs.

The People’s Dispensary Fresno has created a social equity policy. It has advocated and successfully lobbied the city to implement a community reinvestment fund, which allocates monies for the city’s general fund as well a percentage for community support programs to rebuild and restore southwest/southeast residences’ social, emotional, and economic well-being.

If we adopt real social equity policy we can create pathways for the leaders of the informal economy to be a part of the formal economy. All we need to do is provide equitable and fair access to our young Black and Brown communities—they are the market and the experts.   

Fresno’s newly legalized cannabis industry is a call to action for us to come together and create a future where we all feel safe, included and valued. This is an opportunity, this is a challenge to our imagination and the soul of our city.

We must ensure all Fresno can prosper and none are left behind; especially our Black and Brown communities that continue to suffer from the failed war on drugs. Now more than ever, we have the obligation to hold each other accountable and use best practice approaches to make this industry inclusive.

*****

Cesar Casamayor is a community organizer with longtime experience in advocacy for youth and immigrant rights in the city of Fresno. Gidai Maaza is a first-generation child of Ethiopian refugees and lifelong Fresno resident. Gidai is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and co-founder of The People’s Dispensary in Fresno.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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