Equal Time

Jhonrico Carr started MyCaregiver Cooperative in Monterey in 2009, but the city took action against the co-op that shut it down in 2010. Today, Carr is an advocate for social equity in cannabis, a restorative justice movement to help people of color who were targeted during the war on drugs to gain a foothold in the industry.

If anyone has a reason to hold a grudge against the city of Monterey, it’s Jhonrico Carr. To say that he and the city were not on good terms in 2010 is an understatement. Carr and his partners launched a medicinal cannabis cooperative called MyCaregiver Cooperative, Inc., which opened in December 2009. Carr says it was a members-only co-op and was mainly focused on education and helping people with medical issues acquire medicinal cannabis, legal in California since 1996. The city called it a dispensary and acted swiftly to close it down by June 2010.

The dispute included a cease-and-desist order by the city arguing that Carr had failed to mention cannabis would be dispensed when he applied for a business license. There was a visit by the Monterey Police Department. The city passed an urgency ordinance banning all dispensaries and filed a lawsuit against Carr and his partners.

The entire episode left Carr feeling targeted and harassed, he says. It also left him unable to find steady work for over a decade since his name and what happened is easily found with a simple internet search. He was never arrested and the suit became moot after the city passed a permanent ordinance against dispensaries in 2011.

And yet, Carr does not sound bitter 11 years later. His voice is sad as he talks about what happened, but there is an air of hope as he looks to the future. In February, Carr spoke during virtual town hall meetings held by Monterey officials seeking public input on possibly approving retail cannabis licenses. He passionately advocated for the city to include in its ordinance a social equity program that would set aside a portion of any licenses awarded to businesses run by people of color.

Whether Monterey includes cannabis equity in a proposed ordinance is yet to be seen. Carr still dreams of restarting MyCaregiver Cooperative.

Weekly: What is a social equity cannabis license?

Carr: It’s got a lot to do with the war on drugs. Over the years, there have been a lot of people of color like myself – I am an African American, I’m mixed – that have been persecuted, incarcerated, charged with crimes surrounding cannabis for years. Most of the dispensaries, even back when MyCaregiver was open, were primarily white-run businesses; now that it’s gone recreational, more than 70 percent of the businesses in California are run by white business owners.

It’s giving the opportunity to those people who were doing the exact same thing that the Caucasian owners are doing now and flourishing… it’s trying to give them an opportunity to hopefully flourish as well in that industry.

How is the state of California pursuing social equity for cannabis?

For the past two years, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control has been giving money to counties and cities that establish social equity programs. For someone arrested for cannabis – or in our situation with MyCaregiver, if you were persecuted so that you were financially disabled – chances are now you have no way of entry. Social equity is supposed to help to curb that barrier for entry.

How does it work?

You apply with the state, and you have to be designated as a social equity operator applicant. If the state does decide to award money [to cities], it is used to help a social equity operator get a location, and some of the funds are used by the city to operate the program. Most of the cannabis businesses that are operating are owned by entities or people that are millionaires, that’s the reality. A social equity operator has to make less than a certain amount of money, which means that operator does not have the disposable income to open a cannabis business, or any business for that matter.

The state just locked in another $15 million it’s awarding [in grants to cities] this year. [Monterey] would have to write that component into their ordinance to be accepted by the state as a social equity program.

What do you think is important for people to understand about social equity?

In giving people a way to feel equal, it tends to build a morale within the community – not just within cannabis. It’s going to help people who maybe at one time did do things that might have been questionable, but now they want to do the right thing and they want a way to follow the right procedures. It gives them that opportunity.

It will give people, not only myself, a more positive outlook for themselves and their futures.

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