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Cannabis Program in California aims for diversity

By Alani Letang

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    MONTEREY COUNTY, California (KSBW) — December 8 was the deadline for applicants to send in a pre-application for the Monterey County Cannabis Equity Program. This program will open up opportunities for people to enter the cannabis industry.

The pre-applications will help tell the county how many people might be interested in the program. People can still apply as the county applies to secure grant funds from the state.

“It does, quote on quote, level the playing field,” Joann Iwamoto, the Monterey County Cannabis Program manager, said.

The Monterey County Cannabis Program wants to diversify its industry.

The program asked people; who have non-violent cannabis-related convictions, people of color, those who are low-income, and those living in Monterey County for at least five years from 1971 to 2016, to apply for the local cannabis equity program.

“It really gives those that were victims of the war on drugs this opportunity to perhaps enter into the cannabis entry space, either as a biz owner or perhaps an employee,” Iwamoto said.

The county program will then apply for state cannabis equity grant funds. This will assist in minimizing barriers for qualified applicants, with financial support, industry training, and legal assistance.

“Redefining the narrative that’s been portrayed out there to more people of to bring it more to that balance of more people in color in that industry as well,” said Jeff Tillman, Monterey County Cannabis Equity Program applicant.

Tillman has sent in an application to the county. He has 20 years of experience in the cannabis industry, working in multiple sectors such as cultivation, retail and sales, to everything in between. Tillman also served a year and a half in jail for a cannabis conviction 20 years ago.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, California has the lowest racial disparities, with Black people 1.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

In 2018 the ACLU found Blacks were 1.7 times more likely in Santa Cruz County, 4.1 times more likely in San Benito County, and 2.9 times more likely in Monterey County.

Tillman plans to open a consumption cafe, attached to a dispensary. The consumption cafe will be for customers to try out the products before they buy.

“So it would mean a lot. I’ll be an owner as opposed to working for someone. I’ll have my own business,” Tillman said. “Honestly, I think it’s important to show more ownership as opposed to just working.”

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