When Sam Love was in a car accident 20 years ago, she sustained third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. In addition to the physical disfigurement, she said she suffered low self-esteem and anxiety following the accident.
She took pain pills to ease her discomfort and they helped, but when her doctors cut dosages she tried over the counter medication with little success.
One day, someone offered her a joint and she took it.
She also began using cannabidiol – or “CBD,” a cannabis compound that studies have shown can relieve anxiety, among other health benefits, without making people feel “stoned.”
Marijuana helped Love with her pain and anxiety, but the Sacramento woman had to hide her habit from her bosses at her corporate human relations job.
“At my job I was actually the one telling (employees) they couldn’t use drugs,’’ she said. Ultimately her secret got out and she left the job, but she continued using marijuana for its medicinal benefits, she said.
“I was never looking to get stoned so when I tried the CBD and I didn’t get high, but felt better that was a very emotional moment for me,’’ said the 44-year-old Love.
Marijuana had effectively changed her life and she wanted to make it her life’s work.
“I just knew I wanted to be a part of the cannabis industry,’’ she said.
She began attending local government meetings where cannabis regulations were discussed, networked with marijuana advocates and tried unsuccessfully to find a job in the industry.
“The industry is dominated by men and is very sexist. I've experienced sexism laced with racism, ‘’ said Love, who is black. “People hire who they know. I've been out there now, meeting people and things are now changing. But I was always qualified.”.
Now, just weeks before recreational marijuana becomes legal in California, Love will be part of a newly approved Sacramento program to offer minorities, women and veterans consultation with industry mentors, fee reductions and expungement of criminal records so they can become part of the burgeoning cannabis industry.
The two-year-old program will cost the city about $1 million, money it hopes to recoup in taxes once people go through the program and start tax paying businesses.
Those in the legal medical cannabis industry in Sacramento say there is a need to help people break into the market.
“It’s really hard for people to get into the regulated market,’’ said Kimberly Cargile, the executive director of A Therapeutic Alternative, a medical marijuana dispensary regulated by the city of Sacramento. “You really have to trust someone to let them in. For years we just hired friends and family.”
The newly approved plan also provides incentives for businesses that hire workers who have drug convictions, or those who are homeless, high school dropouts or formerly part of the foster care system.
“I think (this program) is an acknowledgement of many of the wrongs with the failed war on drugs and the arrests that contributed to the generation poverty and inequity,’’ said Sacramento’s chief of cannabis policy and enforcement Joe Devlin. “I think it’s also about insuring that there is a place within this new industry for small, local minority, women and veteran owned businesses.”
Devlin continued, “We want people to enter the legal market so we should be looking at ways of reducing barriers because it is in our collective best interest.”
Love will work with Cargile, who through their own program has already helped seven dispensary employees break out on their own.
“We are going to do the same exact thing with our equity participants,’’ Cargile said. “We are dedicated to advancing the movement.”
Love will start work at a receptionist, learn the ropes and hopefully, she said, move into management. If everything goes as planned, she’d like to start her own business down the line. “I wanted to be part of this industry and this is what it took,’’ she said. “It is a great step in the right direction.”
Oakland created the state’s first cannabis “equity program” earlier this year and the demand for dispensary permits has been high.
The city has received 69 applications for four dispensary permits and more than 150 equity program applications for cultivation, manufacturing, delivering and testing since the application period opened in May, said Greg Minor, assistant to the city administrator.
The program, among other things, gives permitting priority to people who’ve been convicted of a marijuana charge in Oakland, or who were longtime residents of neighborhoods with the highest numbers of marijuana-related arrests.
A city analysis found cannabis laws from 1995-2015 were disproportionately enforced against minority residents.
“The data shows that for over two decades, black and brown residents were arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses at disparately high rates, while largely white cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and distributors who were not operating entirely above board either, flourished under changing laws designed to accommodate the burgeoning industry,” said City of Oakland Race and Equity Director Darlene Flynn.