Legalized Pot Was Supposed to Help Build Black Wealth in Los Angeles. It Failed. – The New Republic

“I wasn’t putting no money up, so it’s like I was just getting part of a business for nothing, just because I grew up in L.A., in the hood,” Stansell explained. According to the contract, he would be “a silent partner,” with “no voting rights” and no “control or influence over the day-to-day Cannabis Business operations.” Stansell felt he understood what he was getting into: “They was using Black people, because they know Black people don’t have the money and don’t have the knowledge.”

So far, marijuana legalization has been less a revolution and more a grim continuation of a deeply American form of inequality, in which prosperity and social mobility are technically possible but utterly unlikely.

But Keith wanted to actually run and own her own business. That was the point, she thought, and the meaning of the word “equity.” She became determined to win a social equity dispensary license. Yet she felt she couldn’t trust any of the entities she would need to work with to make it happen: not the investors, not the incubators, and certainly not the city.

After the city declined to enforce the social equity provisions of the supply chain phase of licensing, Keith came to believe that politicians in Los Angeles were either incompetent or beholden to moneyed interests, whether through influence channels like lobbying and campaign donations or through more nefarious means. She learned that city law limited the number of pot shops in every district but allowed City Council members the authority to approve additional shops. Keith said she heard other weed entrepreneurs bragging that one City Council member or another had promised them a retail license through this provision, essentially as a political favor. These were not isolated observations. In the summer of 2020, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna described “rampant corruption at City Hall” in L.A. as part of an FBI investigation that brought down two City Council members—one of whom, according to a lawsuit filed by a former staffer, “was engaged in conduct designed to extort applicants for cannabis permits within his Council District.” (The city settled the lawsuit for $150,000.)

Keith decided she needed to take matters into her own hands. She organized protests. She collected examples of predatory contracts, convincing the city to tighten its rules. She developed contacts with local radio, TV, and newspapers. She gathered social equity applicants to pool information and resources in a back room at an illegal dispensary in a Black neighborhood.

For months, Keith and a friend drove around looking for available properties with the right zoning where equity applicants could open pot shops, and then pairing those properties with people she knew. In this way, she met an investor …….