Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marijuana Industry Is So White, BuzzFeed Reports

By David Downs
Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 10:20 AM

Blacks are underrepresented as owners of legal marijuana businesses, BuzzFeed reports in a sweeping story this week. About 1 percent of the estimated 3,200 to 3,600 storefront pot shops are owned by Blacks.

Institutional racism targets Blacks for drug felonies, then bars drug felons from holding legal pot licenses, further stacking the deck against minorities.

“It really does piss me off,” Henderson said. His friend still works at that dispensary, and makes a lot more money than Henderson does. “And to see a lot of people come to Colorado to work in weed, that pisses me off even more. They’re coming here, living comfortable, and it’s like, I could be doing the same thing, but I can’t, because of my past with marijuana.”
Moreover, vast amounts of cash and land are often required to enter the legal trade, and the group with the most access to raw capital tend to be old white dudes.

California’s loose medical marijuana laws have given Blacks the most opportunity, Lewis finds, while East Coast state medical pot regimes are all but shut.

The overwhelming whiteness of the legal pot industry is even greater outside of states with relatively open markets, such as California and Michigan. In most states that allow the medical use of marijuana, a small, unelected commission determines who will receive a limited number of business licenses. With almost no oversight or transparency, the licensing has been rife with accusations of cronyism. At least six states and Washington, D.C., emphasize vague and coded qualifications like “character.”

click to enlarge A cannabis investing event in the Twitter building in San Francisco in 2015 lacks diversity. - DAVID DOWNS
  • David Downs
  • A cannabis investing event in the Twitter building in San Francisco in 2015 lacks diversity.

It’s a good, deep dive, even if Lewis skimps on fair comment from law enforcement. Cops demand drug felons do not receive licenses in an effort to weed outlaws from the rolls of licensees.

And there’s much actually being done about the problem: from Washington expungement clinics, to new interest groups like Supernova — “a space for women of color in cannabis”. Supernova hosts “Shades of Green: The State of Cannabis in California for People of Color” on March 24 in San Francisco.

You can follow more Black voices in the legalization debate, like Ngaio Bealum and Professor Carl Hart who weighed in on this same topic a year ago.

LN: ... What do you make of the critique that rich, white males stand to gain the most from legalization?

Hart: Yeah, you know I sympathize with that person, obviously. I mean, I sold marijuana, you know? But the fact is this: We can't expect one fledgling, developing industry alone to solve this major problem in the United States, which the republic has ignored since we came out of slavery. That's not even logical.

Other companies and industries don't even have to deal with these questions. No one's asking the lottery [industry about this]. My aunt for many years ran numbers. She got put out of business when Florida got the lottery. No one was talking about that. ... Black folks got shut out.

So yeah, we can expect to see the same thing in this industry if we don't put pressure on [canna-business] to hire them, but we shouldn't say, "Well, we should not have this industry, because of that." That's nonsense — more people going to jail as a result.
And in related news, our longtime source Sue Taylor is a finalist for a dispensary license in Berkeley, which would make her among the first Black seniors to operate a dispensary. Check out our report for our podcast The Hash. We have more from Taylor in April.


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