With more and more states legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, the industry is only growing more lucrative. As social stigma fades and the willingness of banks to work with cannabis businesses increases, investors and entrepreneurs are jumping on the cannabis train in record numbers. While this is a positive thing, one can’t help but notice that many new and established businesses are run by white men. This is especially apparent when you look at the crowds at cannabis conferences.
While there’s room for all kinds of people in the cannabis industry, all kinds of people aren’t equally represented. According to a study by Marijuana Business Daily, women hold only 10 percent of executive positions in the industry, which is lower than the number of women executives in traditional businesses. Building a successful cannabis business depends largely on being able to secure significant funding; more men in the industry, especially those who primarily hire other men for management positions, means less access to capital for women.
This disparity is even more acute when it comes to minorities, especially women of color. Because of the astronomical cost of starting a “plant-touching” business such as a dispensary or cultivation facility, and because of the financial hurdles people of color disproportionately experience relative to white people, access to the industry is even more exclusive. Marijuana Business Daily (https://mjbizdaily.com/chart-19-cannabis-businesses-owned-founded-racial-minorities/), reports that more than 80 percent of cannabis businesses are owned by white people, while people of color own only four percent. This is largely because states often require proof of large sums -- a million dollars or more – in order to start the licensing process for a cannabis business. The sad fact is that white men usually have more access to that kind of money than women and POC.
The most egregious injustice of cannabis prohibition, and another barrier to entering the industry, is the incarceration of cannabis users. According to the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org/gallery/marijuana-arrests-numbers), black and white people use cannabis at the same rate, but black people are between four and eight times more likely to be arrested for possession, depending on the state in which they reside. Being convicted often means losing access to jobs, benefits, or education. While white people are getting rich off artisanal cannabis, POC are still sitting in prison for using it.
Offering reparations to communities most devastated by unjust cannabis laws should be a natural next step after freeing cannabis prisoners. For example, states might offer cannabis-business classes in communities with the highest rate of cannabis arrests, create local licensing boards made of POC, and lower application costs for residents of those neighborhoods who seek to open cannabis businesses. State-sponsored mentorships and job training in communities of color are essential steps toward righting the wrongs of prohibition.
Democratic politicians including Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer have introduced federal legislation that would help minorities enter the cannabis industry, but the Republican-led U.S. government has yet to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule One controlled substances. Until that happens, marijuana justice depends upon the states.
You can help on a grassroots level by doing your homework about the companies whose products you buy. Before you go to the dispensary, look at the menu online and research the growers and brands that interest you. Whenever possible, choose products made by women, POC, seniors, and by medical marijuana patients themselves. Tell your friends and family about the products you particularly like, and write reviews online (if you can’t find a place to review the brand, review the dispensary and mention the brand). If you’re an investor, purchase stock in minority-owned companies.
Write clemency support letters, and write to prisoners. Your local dispensary may have letter-writing meetings for the public, or be able to tell you where to write. If you’ve never written a clemency letter before, here’s (https://www.cannabischeri.com/prison-outreach/writing-effective-clemency-support-letters-for-marijuana-prisoners/) a resource that tells you how.
Most importantly of all, vote. In a just country, all marijuana prisoners with no other criminal record would be freed, and their records would be expunged. It is imperative that justice-minded people, especially white people, continue to fight for the freedom of all cannabis prisoners. Research federal, state, and local candidates’ positions on cannabis before heading to the voting booth. Together, we can help create equal opportunity for anyone who wants to enter the cannabis industry, and end the devastation of prohibition.