OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — As the state scrambles to get ready for recreational marijuana sales, one East Bay city has a plan to give convicted criminals priority when it comes to providing pot.

While established pot dispensaries in Oakland will be given priority when recreational cannabis sales become legal in January, another group that will benefit are those residents who either live in a neighborhood where there has been a large number of cannabis-related arrests or those who have a cannabis-related conviction on their record.

Those people will be entitled to 50 percent of the permits issued for new cannabis businesses in Oakland.

“Next time I invite you over to the house for a pot luck, it may not just be cooking, but doing other things at home,” said Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo.

Gallo says when the city started looking into permitting legal cannabis business, they uncovered something surprising.

“We thought we only had eight businesses for a number of years. And so we wanted to grow it to 16 medical dispensaries,” explained Gallo. “And we found out in the process we had over 250 doing business anyway; owing warehouses, in the homes, all over the city.”

So, while the city keeps a tight leash on the number on dispensaries, they decided to make other business like growers legal so they can collect taxes and make sure they follow building codes.

But they also took the opportunity to bring Oakland residents into the business – 50 percent of all permits must go to what they call “equity applicants.”

An equity applicant is a business that is owned by someone that is an Oakland resident that makes less than 80 percent of the average median income, said said Assistant to Oakland City Administrator Greg Minor. And either has a cannabis conviction arising out of Oakland California, or lives in certain parts of Oakland that experience disproportionately high rates of cannabis enforcement.

The program is the first of its kind after a study by the city showed disproportionate cannabis enforcement against African Americans.

For example, in 2015, 71 percent of all cannabis arrests in were African Americans, while only three percent were white

“Public health studies show that all races use cannabis to roughly the same degree,” said Minor.

Claudia Mercado is getting ready to launch her cannabis business, Calibueno. In January, she’ll be a distributor. She’s born and raised in Oakland, but she’s not an equity applicant. We asked what she thinks of the one-to-one ratio for equity applicants

“By me showing up – I give a spot to an equity per se, you know? So it’s really a win win for everybody. If somebody shows up here but there’s a vacancy here – then we’re not in balance,” said Mercado. “So I feel like if you look at the numbers of Oakland it’s a really well balanced program.”

So far, things are working out fairly evenly. Of approximately 250 permit applications, about 50 percent are general applicants with the other 50 percent being made up by equity applicants.

Cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles are looking into incorporating the same kind of equity applicant program in their recreation marijuana sales.