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The game of catch-up continues. This time, the San Diego City Council has adopted a cannabis equity assessment, a first step toward establishing an equity program in the city. This comes about eight years after dispensaries opened their doors in America’s Finest City. 

To prepare the equity assessment, the city’s Cannabis Business Division analyzed arrest records as far back as 1989. Predictably, they found that Black and Latino residents were disproportionately criminalized for cannabis, while the legal industry is overwhelmingly white. 

“Those with the most resources were able to rush through and start hoarding the profits (from legalization), all while folks were still chained down by the actions of the past,” said Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, according to KPBS. “This is simply an attempt to — not even level the playing field but make it a little bit more level.”

Another councilmember, Monica Montgomery Steppe, told KPBS she was an early supporter of launching an equity program in San Diego, but former Mayor Kevin Faulconer was not on board. She added that the recent assessment wasn’t perfect, but it’s a first step for receiving state-grant funding. 

For a social equity program to exist, the city will have to change its zoning regulations for cannabis businesses. The regulations haven’t been reassessed since the former, more conservative mayor established them in 2014. Since then, they’ve been criticized for creating an inaccessible market to all but the wealthiest. 

Currently, businesses are capped at four retail outlets per City Council district, and must be at least 1,000-feet apart from parks, schools, churches, or other “sensitive use” spaces. Production facilities have a higher cap and must be located in industrial zones. 

Social equity programs have historically had mixed reviews and successes, as well as slow implementation times. San Diego is no exception. After this assessment, city staffers expect to return in about a year to discuss recommendations for better zoning rules. 

We’ll be keeping an eye on this slow rollout of cannabis equity programming. 

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