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Impact Articles

New Year, New Cannabis Industry

Impact
Jan 2, 2018

New Year, New Cannabis Industry

BY : ZARNA SURTI | LEAD IMAGE BY : ANJA CHARBONNEAU

The Need for Diversity in the Cannabis Industry

Because Uncle Tom can't be the only one profiting...

Let’s face it—New Year’s Day is always reserved for outlandish resolutions. Whether you’re committing to a new workout routine, bringing to life an idea for a new business, or swearing off your biggest vice, almost all of us start each year with a goal and something to look forward to. But this year, most Californians are also looking forward to something else—the legalization of cannabis. Starting on January 1, 2018, shops with both local permits and state licenses will be able to sell recreational cannabis without the need of medical marijuana doctor’s recommendations—which means you’ll be able to legally possess up to one ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home if you’re 21 or older. It is important to note that in Los Angeles, the city won’t even begin accepting applications to sell until January 3rd and it could take weeks before those businesses are properly licensed with the city and state can open their doors. So while all of us Angelenos will have to wait a bit longer than our northern counterparts, it’s still coming to the city very soon.

But along with any decision this large comes ramifications, and one of the hottest topics in the industry is not what you’d expect. It doesn’t have anything to do with rules or regulations, or even the plant itself—it has to do with diversity within the industry. According to a 2016 Buzzfeed report, black people only own a shocking one percent of over 3,000 independently-owned cannabis dispensaries. Another issue with the majority white-owned industry is that white people are much less likely to suffer from legal ramifications around cannabis—black and Hispanic men are three times as likely as their Caucasian counterparts to be arrested for pot-related reasons.

As expected, the citizens of Los Angeles county have also expressed their concern. In late June 2017, around 150 people came together at the Expo Center in Los Angeles for the first of several conversations around the launch of adult-use cannabis in California. It focused on the lack of diversity around the multi-billion dollar industry and the issue of minority ownership, as many want to ensure that marginalized groups get an equal shot at profiting from legalization.

In response to these concerns, organizations like THC Staffing Group, Minority Cannabis Business Association, and the National Cannabis Industry Association MInority Council were formed. Shaleen Title, the cofounder of THC Staffing Group, connects cannabis companies with diverse job candidates. She works in Massachusetts and also helps other states with legalization campaigns to include language that creates opportunities for diverse communities and people of color.

The Minority Cannabis Business Association (also known as the MCBA) is the first 501(c)(6) not for profit business league that was created to progress the cannabis industry by increasing diversity. Their mission is to “create equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients, and the communities most affected by the war on drugs.” The board for the MCBA was formed in September 2016 to truly educate minorities about how to break into the industry and how to get more minority jobs within the industry. They are currently focusing on developing a diverse nationwide community of cannabis business owners, advocating for fair enforcement of policies, accelerating growth within the industry by ensuring patient and consumer access, and serving as the voice for the minority population within the industry. MCBA founding board member and policy director Jason Oritz says, “MCBA is working to ensure more visibility, more accessibility, and more representation.”

Additionally, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is proactively taking steps to help. They recently established a Minority Business Council and also launched an Inclusion Initiative. The goal is to expand the reach of underrepresented groups within the industry—including a scholarship fund for minorities to attend cannabis business events and programs.

Even Rolling Stone recently reported a story on 56-year-old Alexis Bronson, a self-proclaimed African-American ‘botanist or horticulturalist.’ He scoffs at being called a ‘pot grower’ and is one of the first in Oakland, California to receive a medical cannabis license under the innovative Equity Permit Program—a protocol that distributes marijuana licenses while prioritizing minority communities who have been impacted unfairly by the War on Drugs. It currently only applies to medical licenses, but the city is going to introduce equity programs for adult-use permits later. Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks told Rolling Stone, “When you look across this country, the people who are making money in respect to cannabis and recreational marijuana are white men. The people who have historically gone to jail for the same activity are predominantly African-American and Latino.”

The solution is far from simple—to avoid economic injustices, people of color must get ahead of the same class of rich white men who are in control of many other industries and have now secured an interest in cannabis. As they are quickly getting their grip on the industry by scooping up licenses and real estate far before minority communities, people of color must get ahead of it—and we can only hope these initiatives will light the way for more diversity and equalization within the industry.