More than a dozen people protested silently outside Mayor Todd Gloria’s annual state of the city address at Balboa Theatre on Wednesday night.

Drowned out by other, louder protests — against Palestinian occupation, rodeos, SDG&E and camping bans — one woman gave a quick shout: “Don’t forget about the weed!”

They held signs that said things like, “Come on mayor, make cannabis fair” and “Jailed for cannabis, can’t enter market.”

The city of San Diego just launched their grant-funded Social Equity and Economic Development, or SEED program.

It’s meant to create opportunities for people criminalized for cannabis — disproportionately Black and brown — to enter the now-legal industry.

City staff initially recommended 36 cannabis equity licenses, along with reduced location restrictions, legal assistance, help with fees and funds to lease space.

They just announced they’re delivering on all of that — but at half the scale.

They plan to issue just 18 equity licenses, through a lottery system.

Eligible applicants must be “individuals, immediate family members or legal guardians” who have a past conviction or arrest for a cannabis crime and meet two of the following criteria:

Cannabis equity organizer Armand King, who is part of Gloria’s Black Advisory Group, said the mayor is caving to pressure from current operators who want to monopolize the industry.

“The same place I was physically incarcerated in handcuffs in a cop car, there is now a dispensary, owned by the same people who are going against us,” King said. “The irony in that.”

The city currently has 36 cannabis operation licenses — four in each district.

“Thirty-six would have been equal,” King said. “You offer us 18, that means we’re less than equal. That just reminds me of, ‘we’re three-fifths of a human being.’ We’re still less than equal to you, Mayor?”

He takes issue with more than just the number of licenses.

He wants a merit-based system that would give more weight to people who were more heavily criminalized and identify participants who actively help their communities.

He’s concerned that a lottery system opens up the program to unfair play — that current operators could plant their own candidates.

The protestors had also been hopeful for a community reinvestment plan in which SEED participants would reinvest a portion of the profit into the communities and hire locally. The city’s announcement made no mention of such a plan.

In an email response to questions about the complaints, a city spokesperson said only: “Our office has met with Mr. King, and he insisted the City should triple the number of licenses for cannabis retailers. The Mayor does not think that is a good idea.”

King denied this. He said they’re only asking for what city staff had already recommended – 36.

Alongside King stood 92-year-old “Queen Mother Dr. Kathleen Harmon,” also an advisor to the mayor.

“I’m just wondering, in this city, where is the representation for African Americans?” Harmon asked. “We have nothing. We have no restaurants. We have no jobs. We have nothing. And I’m wondering, when are we going to get our fair share?”

City staff will present the program to the planning commission next month, and to the full city council in the spring.

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