While many states that have legalized cannabis have put effort into organizing a social equity program, Oregon has not, which led a group of Willamette College of Law students to write a bill that would establish a state-wide program. These students belong to the Willamette chapter of Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy (LSSDP), which became an official student organization in fall 2017.
As described in an informational handout made by the students, cannabis social equity “looks to remove barriers which have kept the populations most impacted by cannabis prohibition out of the newly established and economically lucrative legal cannabis market.”
Brett Mulligan, a College of Law student is a current director of LSSDP and a driving force in the creation of the cannabis social equity bill. He noted that the process has been a collaborative team effort with law students Nick Culp, Karmen Pacheco, Dillon Duxbury and Joe O’Connell.
The bill this team wrote gives resources to communities of people most affected by the war on drugs by offering programs such as application workshops, technical support and grants and loans.
“Payments of loans will go back into the social equity grant program, thereby creating a self sustaining source of capital for the program,” states the handout.
“We are not looking to basically give someone a company, we just want people from all sorts of communities to have an equal playing field so that the best entrepreneurs can rise to the top,” explained Mulligan.
By the end of November, Mulligan reported that participating LSSDP members will have met with 30 to 35 Oregon state legislators. On Nov. 18, they presented to the Economic Development Committee. Mulligan explained that he never knows what to expect going into meetings, as some politicians have been instantly interested, while others are unfamiliar with the concept of cannabis social equity.
While they have mostly met with Democrat legislators, Mulligan said they have some meetings planned with Republicans and thinks they will be interested in the economic development aspect of the bill.
“They are very interested in a social equity program because it will help the small local businesses, and that is going to be huge because you will be building those economies, and also tax revenue… Southern Oregon naturally is probably one of the best spots in the entire world to grow cannabis, so imagine the economic development you can have,” said Mulligan.
Multiple legislators have shown interest in the bill and have discussed sponsoring it for either the 2020 or 2021 session.
Mulligan stated his goal was for the bill to be active in the 2021 session, but that the possibility of it being in the 2020 session has increased. In fact, when he first started requesting meetings with legislators, he only expected to get a few responses but ended up receiving many more than expected.
“They say state government is where things happen, and it really is,” he said.
Mulligan also discussed the history of the Willamette LSSDP chapter, reporting that when it first started in 2017, there were three members. In the last meeting, 30 to 40 people attended.
When asked why he believes the organization has seen such an increase in numbers, he said that many people are currently enrolling in law schools to pursue criminal reform policy.
“If you look at why the U.S. has the highest prison population and ratio of people going to prison, a lot of it is because of drug policy and putting people in jail because of nonviolent drug offenses. I think that brought a lot of people into it,” he said.
He also noted that drug policy involves other aspects of legal studies, like health and human services. While at first it may seem like a niche interest, the issue impacts many people and touches on multiple subjects that interest many law students.
LSSDP is also working on other projects, including a drug decriminalization initiative in collaboration with Reed College. Mulligan said College of Liberal Arts (CLA) students can support these projects by giving signatures so that initiatives can make it to the ballot. He also mentioned an interest in working with CLA students for research and writing policy proposals.