BUDGET ADVOCATES-As a City Budget Advocate, I volunteered to chair the Cannabis Committee for this year’s White Paper which will be submitted to the Mayor early next year. With cannabis being the newest department to generate revenue to the city’s General Fund budget, our committee’s first goal was to meet with the newly hired Executive Director, Cat Packer and ask, how do we keep track of the money? The advantage of being a new line item in the budget is that there is no haze of the past, no inconsistencies on the “whys and hows” of the department’s budget. It’s a fresh start to transparency, which is the primary goal of the Budget Advocates representing 97 neighborhood councils.
Cannabis’ advantage also brings challenges because the standards and protocols are still being decided as we head into the second week of December. As of November 27, City Council voted to amend and remove the following wording: “…Commercial Cannabis Businesses contributing a percentage of their annual gross receipts to the Community Reinvestment and Benefit Program Fund,” replacing it with, “INSTRUCT the Department of Cannabis Regulation, the City Administrative Officer, and the Chief Legislative Analyst, with the assistance of the City Attorney, to report back no later than January 12, 2018, with proposals to fund the Community Reinvestment and Benefit Program Fund, see link for meeting details: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2017/17-0653_mot_11-28-17.pdf.”
This was very disconcerting news to many who live and care about our neighborhoods, especially those of us who serve on the 97 neighborhood councils. Commercial cannabis businesses will still have a Community Benefits Agreement in which the businesses will need to sign agreements with specific requirements tailored to the communities where they are located, but this is likely to take the form of specific safety protocols, signage, community design and beautification. Also, each business will be required to have a neighborhood liaison who will be the point-of-contact for neighborhood council concerns.
To keep the cannabis money transparent, we cannot allow the Community Reinvestment and Benefit Program Fund to be taken away and not be replaced.
I contacted Ms. Packer and she shared the department’s draft proposal that she will present to the City Council on January 12, 2018.
Here is a summary of the program as of this week:
H – Health
E – Education
R – Regulation
E – Enforcement
“The Controller shall disburse the sum of ten million dollars each year beginning 2017-18 and increasing by ten million dollars each year until to 2023. From 2023-24 and [going forward,] an annual fifty million dollars will be disbursed to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development in consultation with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the State Department of Social Services to administer a community reinvestment grants program to local health departments and at least 50 percent to qualified community-based nonprofit organizations to support job placement, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, system navigation services, legal services providers to address barriers to reentry, and linkage to medical care for communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.
“The office shall periodically evaluate the programs it is funding to determine the effectiveness of the programs and shall not spend more than 4 percent for administrative costs related to implementation, evaluation, and oversight of the programs. Grants will be awarded annually beginning January 2020.
“The fifty million dollars breaks down to 60% for Youth Education, Prevention, Early Intervention, Treatment Fund and 40% to Enforcement and Regulation.”
Legalized cannabis is a fluid situation and the rules are being finalized as we head into the new year. Today, I sat in the City Council meeting and heard public comments from those who were not in favor of a cashless point-of-sale for cannabis store owners. Many stated that not having the ability to bank funds would make such a request for “credit/debit card only purchases” impractical and illegal under federal law.
The City of Los Angeles is going to make history in the next 48 hours with the implementation of legalized cannabis. Let’s not let them take away the Community Reinvestment and Benefit Program Fund without replacing it with a program that will provide the neighborhoods with the services promised. The rest of the nation is watching and many will follow what LA does.
(Brigette Kidd is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate from Region 9 who chairs the Cannabis Committee.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.