Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, June 2, 2017

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

Download (2)The title of this post is the headline of this lengty new Washington Post article which highlights racialized realities in the marijuana industry.  Here are excerpts:

States generally do not track the race and ethnicity of license applicants, but industry analysts and researchers say that dispensaries and the more-profitable growing operations across the country are overwhelmingly dominated by white men.

The lack of minority representation is especially fraught given that research shows African Americans were disproportionately arrested and incarcerated during the war on drugs. Now that marijuana is seen as a legitimate business, advocates argue that minorities should also reap the profits....

The marijuana trade, legal in some form in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries. The $6.6 billion in medical and recreational marijuana sales in 2016 is expected to expand to $16 billion by 2020, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis data analytics company headquartered in the District.

But African Americans seeking to go into business as growers or retailers face a host of hurdles, researchers say. Many states bar convicted drug felons from the industry, disproportionately hurting minorities because of historically higher conviction rates. Others have set high investment requirements. Some dole out licenses through appointed commissions that industry researchers say reward the politically connected, who by and large are wealthy and white.

“Marijuana legalization without racial justice risks being an extension of white privilege,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist for Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for drug policy reforms.

The disparities have become such a source of consternation for some lawmakers and industry leaders that more than half a dozen states and municipalities, including Oakland and the District, are taking steps to boost minorities in the competitive licensing process....

Colorado, one of the earliest states to legalize marijuana, has nearly 1,000 dispensary licenses and nearly 1,500 cultivation licenses. African Americans make up less than a handful of license holders, according to cannabis entrepreneurs in the state. Wanda James, a former Navy lieutenant who says she’s one of the few black growers and dispensary owners in Colorado, blames regulations barring those convicted of drug crimes from owning, and working in, a dispensary or cultivation center.

“In Colorado, if you sell 10 pounds of cannabis today, you probably get written up in Forbes about what a great businessperson you are, but if a young black man sells a dime bag on a street corner in Alabama, he’s probably going to jail for 10 years,” she said. A black person is nearly four times more likely than a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though the two groups use marijuana at similar rates, according to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report that examined arrests in every state using a decade’s worth of FBI crime data....

Jesce Horton, an Oregon marijuana entrepreneur who started the Minority Cannabis Business Association in 2015 to diversify the industry, said that as a college student in Florida, he was arrested three times for marijuana possession. His criminal record would have barred him from entering the business in other states. “It’s really a slap in the face to communities who have been targeted,” Horton said. “A lot of people see these as racist regulations. These are fear-based tactics by legislators who are more than willing to go along with the business interests sitting in the room.”

Some states also require applicants to have financial holdings upward of $1 million, a particularly high bar given the documented wealth disparities between blacks and whites. Those without ready access to capital cannot turn to banks, which are unwilling to provide business loans for an industry that is still illegal at the federal level....

Even with potential shifts in federal drug-enforcement policies, several jurisdictions have moved to address racial disparities in the industry. Oakland recently voted to set aside half of all marijuana business permits for people who had been arrested for drug crimes in the city or lived in neighborhoods with high marijuana arrests.

Illinois, like Pennsylvania, awards extra points to minority applicants. Ohio requires 15 percent of licenses to be issued to minorities. Florida has reserved one of its future marijuana-cultivation licenses for a member of the state’s Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. Maryland marijuana regulators, meanwhile, are fending off a lawsuit that threatens to halt its program after no black-owned businesses won cultivation licenses.

Some prior related posts:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2017/06/battling-the-racial-roadblocks-to-joining-the-legalized-marijuana-trade.html

Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink

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