Recreational Marijuana sales are now legal in the state of California, but for communities of color who were disproportionately hurt by cannabis criminalization, the negative impacts are still felt.
James Kyser knows this all too well. He was a teacher's aide in 1989, when he was arrested and convicted in California on a marijuana-related felony.
"Once I got the felony charge, they told me I couldn't work with kids anymore," he told ABC10 News.
He then tried to become an insurance agent.
"The first thing they asked is if I have anything on my record that would prolong getting licensing," he said.
Another marijuana arrest and conviction in California in 1991 further hurt his career options.
"A lot of high-paying upscale jobs were scrutinizing the felony for marijuana," he said.
But Prop 64, which California voters approved in November 2016, not only legalized the sale of marijuana, effective this year. It also allows people convicted under the old law to have their sentences and convictions reduced to what they'd be under current law.
And there's no time limit, so Kyser's convictions from nearly 30 years ago could become much less severe.
"The data tells us that the white population, by and large, sells more weed, smokes more weed, but black folks have made up 70 to 80 percent of the jail sentences for marijuana," said Malaki Amen.
He is president of the California Urban Partnership, "an organization with a mission to build economic security in communities of color," he told ABC10 News in an interview Wednesday.
The stories that played out again and again in communities of color over the decades of marijuana criminalization, he said, were all too similar.
"Someone black goes into jail. They get out, they can't get a job, college tuition, housing," he said, and that impacted a person's children and broader community.
While nothing can un-do the damage cannabis criminalization did to families and communities of color, cities and the state can, now, make sure minority business owners have equal and fair access to this lucrative and now-legal industry.
"The market opened Jan. 1, and what we need to make sure is that those who were victimized are not entering into the race with just a two-wheeled bicycle while everyone else is moving full steam ahead in a Ferrari," he said.
He and other advocates worked with Sacramento city leaders to pass an ordinance establishing an equity program, to help people of color navigate the steps needed in order to open a cannabis-related business.
"What we would ideally like to see is an organization like the Greater Sacramento Urban League receive assistance to help those who were victimized get through the process, the very complex process, of completing a business plan, of completing the applications," he said. "That, of course, includes assistance from attorneys, from accountants, as well as even environmentalists and security firms and public relations firms."
Sacramento's equity program is not yet up and running, but Amen hopes it's something that will roll out soon in the new year, "to put out resources for business development skills training, as well as to move towards a revolving loan fund, as well as to ensure that those with felonies are not barred from participating in the industry."
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