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by Minister of Information JR Valrey, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
The War on Drugs affected East and West Oakland in a drastic way. The mass influx of drugs and guns in the Crack Era of the ‘80s and early ‘90s into Oakland and surrounding Bay Area cities led to catastrophic violence, abuse, homelessness and neglect in Black households. Today the mental health of many of the Black people who survived this horrific time in modern American history is still in shambles and has been greatly altered because of the Reagan administration’s biological warfare agenda aimed primarily at poisoning the Black community through the mass importation of cocaine and locking up the Black community under draconian laws like Three Strikes, which was/is euphemistically in the media called the “War on Drugs” campaign. Check out Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” for more information on this time in local American history.
Monday at noon, Oakland City Councilman Loren Taylor will be proposing a piece of legislation being called “The Emerald New Deal,” which in short is meant to dedicate $160 million over the next 20 years from legal cannabis sales to help repair the people and families that operated in the illegal cannabis industry and were prosecuted in Oakland prior to cannabis being legalized in 2016.
On the surface, this looks like a good piece of legislation, but we wanted to go deeper with Councilman Loren Taylor to see what the Emerald New Deal is about, because it is said that “the devil is in the details.” Councilman Loren Taylor is very passionate and eloquent about the Emerald New Deal, check out what he has to say …
JR Valrey: What is the Emerald New Deal? And how will it affect those most impacted by the war on drugs?
Councilman Loren Taylor: When we look at the East Oakland and West Oakland flatlands and complain about the blight, the disrepair, the lack of businesses (like banks and grocery stores), the lack of resources and the displacement of Black residents, it is easy to forget that these places were once thriving economic centers, populated with Black working middle class families who owned homes and businesses.
The changes that occurred did not happen by accident but instead through intentional acts of governmental institutions. One of the most effective and devastating of these actions was the “War on Drugs”, initiated by the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s.
Between 1995 and 2015, 77% of the 12,655 Oaklanders arrested for cannabis related crimes were Black – while the city’s Black population averaged less than 40%. This disproportionate rate of arrests of Black residents was only exacerbated when combined with racist policing practices, unjustified confiscation of property and intentional disinvestment in already impacted communities.
The Emerald New Deal is a proposal for the City of Oakland to commit more than $160 million over the next 20 years to repair the harm inflicted on the Black and LatinX communities of East and West Oakland from the War on Drugs. While this is only a small start towards making amends, it is $160 million that would otherwise not be explicitly earmarked for healing our community.
If approved, the $8 million-plus per year will be the only dedicated funding source in the City of Oakland for those directly impacted by the “War On Drugs.” These funds will focus on delivering re-entry support services, mental health resources, housing access, economic self-sufficiency, community and economic development, and support for impacted cannabis operators. Programs and services that receive support will be selected by a panel of Oakland residents, who will use a data-driven analysis to direct funding to the programs that are most effective and will have the most positive impact.
JR Valrey: Where does the tax money from the sale of cannabis in the city of Oakland go now? What kinds of things are funded out of this fund currently?
Councilman Loren Taylor: Since cannabis was legalized in 2016, many people (mostly White and non-native Oaklanders) have gotten rich off of what is now being referred to as the Green Rush. This new industry has for the prior two decades destroyed the lives of Black and Brown Oakland residents as described above.
It is only fair and just that any tax revenue that the City of Oakland brings in from the cannabis industry is directed toward repairing the harm caused by the “War on Drugs.” Unfortunately, that is not the case today.
Instead, tax money from the sale of cannabis in Oakland gets swallowed up by the City’s general fund with no accountability for how the money is spent. There is no dedicated source of funding for supporting our communities that were impacted by the “War on Drugs,” and the minimal amount of dollars the City has spent to support cannabis equity businesses – $500,000 – is not guaranteed to be repeated in next year’s budget cycle.
JR Valrey: If the Emerald Deal passes, where will the cannabis tax revenue go? And what type of things will it fund?
Councilman Loren Taylor: If approved, the $8 million-plus per year will be the only dedicated funding source in the City of Oakland for those directly impacted by the “War on Drugs” and their family members. It will focus on delivering re-entry support services, mental health resources, housing access, economic self-sufficiency, community and economic development, and support for impacted cannabis operators. Programs and services that will receive support will be selected by a panel of Oakland residents – the majority of whom have been directly impacted by the “War on Drugs.” They will use data-driven analysis to direct funding to the programs that are most effective and will have the most positive impact.
JR Valrey: What are some of the reasons why political opponents are opposing the idea?
Loren Taylor: They say that END HARM (Emerald New Deal Healing And Reparations Measure) does not provide enough money to really make an impact on the harms that have been caused. My response: Yes, more money is needed, but $160 million will do a lot of good in our community!
- Cannabis Equity Businesses are still struggling and END HARM does not reduce taxes on these businesses.
RESPONSE: Yes, Cannabis Equity Businesses need more support. The Emerald New Deal, however, is not a tax policy, so tax rates can and should be addressed through other measures and other City legislation. It is not in the best interest of the Black community to stop $160 million from coming in because of a completely unrelated policy effort that everyone agrees also needs to be addressed.
Also, with $0 dedicated to Cannabis Equity Businesses in the current budget process, the END HARM drastically increased the dedicated resources to support Cannabis Equity Businesses to more than $1.6 million per year.
- There is not enough detail in the legislation on how the money will be spent.
RESPONSE: This proposal has the same level of detail that was provided for the voter-approved Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY) Fund which is the mechanism by which 3% of the city’s general fund has been allocated to investing in our young people for over 20 years. This measure establishes a commission that creates a strategic investment plan every four years that has greater detail and specificity in the plan to guide investments that align to the program goals and objectives.
JR Valrey: How does the Emerald New Deal differ from other initiatives to benefit the victims of the “War on Drugs” that have been talked about for years in the city of Oakland but haven’t materialized?
Councilman Loren Taylor: In the past, the majority of efforts made to benefit victims of the “War on Drugs” have been focused on a one-time fund allocation that after the initial payment would disappear. The END HARM legislation will establish a consistent and continual investment over 20 years that can be relied upon to deliver the critical investments for decades, regardless of who is in office and what stakeholders attempt to influence the political process.
Also, it is important to acknowledge that prior non-financial initiatives to benefit victims of the “War on Drugs” (e.g., the Cannabis Equity Program) were focused on a small segment of the impacted residents (e.g., those wanting to open a cannabis business). This proposed program will be available to benefit a broader group of impacted residents regardless of their profession or occupation.
JR Valrey: What kind of job has Oakland’s cannabis equity board been doing in addressing the problem of a modern-day Jim Crow cannabis industry that mostly serves white business owners in Oakland? Has the Oakland City Council been supportive of their efforts?
Councilman Loren Taylor: The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) has done a great job fulfilling its role of helping inform regulatory policies related to the cannabis Industry. While Measure Z had a goal of allowing the CRC to direct more equitable use of the cannabis tax revenue, it failed to give them real power to do so, according to the law. The END HARM resolution corrects that shortcoming by changing the City Charter to enable the CRC to direct the tax revenues.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about why this piece of legislation is named after FDR’s (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s) New Deal and why it is comparable?
Councilman Loren Taylor: FDR’s New Deal was intended to stimulate the American economy in the wake of the Great Depression. While often hailed as a success for stimulating the American economy and creating job opportunities, most historians and economists acknowledge that despite its good intentions, there was a significant benefit for white Americans, but many Black Americans ended up worse off. As an example, 500,000 Black people in the South were estimated to have lost their jobs due to the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. The New Deal’s spending programs were also channeled away from the poorest people – including millions of Blacks living in the South.
Unlike FDR’s New Deal, the Emerald New Deal is intentional about supporting Black and Latino residents instead of making general investments that benefit everyone else. It is specifically focused on improving life outcomes for those who have been disproportionately impacted by the “War on Drugs.” The solutions that will be invested in will be guided by those who are most impacted, and funding strategies are re-evaluated every four years to ensure the effectiveness of implementation.
JR Valrey: When does the legislation go up for a vote?
Councilman Loren Taylor: The Emerald New Deal legislation will be in front of the City Council on Monday, July 11, at its 12 p.m. meeting. At this meeting, the City Council must vote to place the Emerald New Deal on the Nov. 8 election ballot. With three council members signed on in support, two of the five remaining council members must vote in favor of the Emerald New Deal for it to be successful.
Those who are supportive of the Emerald New Deal are encouraged to email the City Council at Council@oaklandca.gov in support of this revolutionary initiative. Additionally, those able to attend the council meeting on Monday, July 11, are encouraged to attend and speak during public comment.
JR Valrey: How could people keep up with what is going on with this legislation?
Councilman Loren Taylor: To stay informed and learn more, please check out the Emerald New Deal website, at https://www.emeraldnewdeal.org/.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.
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