The BBC Reports
An initiative in California is giving people harmed by the “war on drugs” a chance to make it big in the burgeoning legal cannabis industry. But participants say making it big is a lot harder than it looks.
Every night, Julian Nelson sleeps on a sofa inside the office of his cannabis business in Oakland, California, in case armed robbers break in again.
Shelves of pre-rolled spliffs, pet comfort CBD oil, hash caramel chocolate bars and sour green apple cannabis sweets fill the place.
The shop, Green Gold Delivery, is perfectly legal, licensed by the city.
But it is frequently targeted by thieves.
“When I first got started, someone broke in and wiped me out, completely stole everything,” Mr Nelson said. He bought more security equipment, but he was robbed again earlier this year while he was out and lost $15,000 (£12,137) worth of product.
Having a licensed weed business means a lot to Mr Nelson. He had been arrested multiple times for cannabis possession in the past. When it happened the third time, it was after police raided his home. He has served time in jail.
But an initiative called Social Equity gave Mr Nelson the opportunity to open a legitimate business.
The city programme aims to minimise barriers to the legal cannabis industry for those targeted in the so-called US “war on drugs” – a decades-long policy that was found to have unfairly targeted black and Hispanic Americans, putting small-time users or sellers in jail for drug possession.
Begun in 2017, the programme was the first of its kind in the US and has received over 280 applications, according to media reports.
A Social Equity licence is supposed to give these communities a slice of California’s billion-dollar legal cannabis industry and bring diversity. The state decriminalised marijuana in 2016.
It has been replicated in other US states and even London Mayor Sadiq Khan has visited a Social Equity business in Los Angeles to learn about them.
But while who have opened shops have expressed pride in being able to operate legally, they have also been beset with problems.
Access to capital, banking difficulties, bureaucracy, the high tax on legally sold cannabis and crime are just some of the hurdles they’ve had to deal with.
Mr Nelson said that though business is good, it has not always been easy for him or others in the programme, and it remains an open question as to whether Social Equity has really opened up the legal cannabis industry as it intended to.
The programme was born more than 50 years after US President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971, called drug abuse “public enemy number one” and addiction a “national emergency”.