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Marijuana dispensaries in Sacramento open up to ex-convicts

Two years ago, Californians voted overwhelmingly to make recreational marijuana legal statewide, and drinking-age adults in the state have been able to legally buy the drug since January.

Now, several cities are moving to make the legal cannabis industry more equitable to people who've been largely excluded from it: Black and Latino Americans. It's part of a plan to fight drug-related violence in underserved communities and reverse some of the inequities created by the 40-year-old war on drugs, reportsCBS 13 in Sacramento.

Sacramento voted last week to establish a so-called cannabis equity program, making it the fourth city in the state to implement programs to try to level the playing field. (Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles have taken similar steps.)

Sacramento's program allows people who live in particular zip codes, and who have been convicted of a nonviolent marijuana offense or whose family members have been so convicted, to get priority access to open a cannabis-related business. They can waive business permitting fees, which can run into the tens of thousands, and access business support and mentorship.

"We have a goal of having 50 percent of all licenses be awarded to those who were impacted by the war on drugs," Malaki Seku-Amen, president of the California Urban Partnership, told KCRA. "If you were sent to jail or arrested and you were in an area that was disproportionately impacted -- you experienced generational poverty," he said.

But many residents are still uncomfortable with the idea of having state-legal marijuana shops in certain neighborhoods.

"Parents are fearful of letting their children out of their house," Bonnie Akers, a resident of the Oak Park neighborhood, told CBS 13. Akers has tried marijuana in the past, the station reported, but she doesn't support its legalization and sale.

Residents like Akers illustrate opposition localities can face as they try to reduce the influence of the illegal marijuana market by decriminalizing, regulating and taxing the drug. Legalization has the potential to bring in millions in much-needed revenue, and so far studies have shown that legalization does not increase crime. 

"Now that it's been decriminalized we want to be able to also reap the benefits," Rashid Sidqe, vice-chair of Sacramento's Law Enforcement Accountability Directive, told CBS 13.

As the legal marijuana industry grows by leaps and bounds, activists like Sidque say ensuring equal access is a matter of justice.

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