Thursday, February 21, 2019
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR piece. Here are excerpts:
As marijuana becomes legal around the country, blacks and Latinos are often left out of new business opportunities. Advocates say people of color are often reluctant to join the growing legal marijuana economy because they were targeted far more often than whites during the war on drugs. Studies show members of such communities were arrested and jailed for illegal marijuana use far more often than whites.
As Massachusetts developed laws for legal marijuana, officials wrote what they claimed was a first-in-the-nation Social Equity Program explicitly to give members of those communities a leg up. But this part of the state law isn't working — next to no black or Latino candidates have applied for licenses in Massachusetts.
They're scared of the government. "They're scared of the government, man," said Sieh Samura, an outspoken cannabis activist. "This is still a new thing. And there's taxes, there's the government, there's all kinds of things, you know. Just because people say it's legal ... it's not welcoming for everybody."
Studies show that blacks and Latinos nationwide have been arrested and incarcerated for cannabis and other drug crimes at at least four times the rate of whites. The long-term effects of the war on drugs launched in the 1970s are still evident in many communities of color.
So, the city of Somerville, Mass., passed an ordinance requiring that 50 percent of recreational marijuana licenses go to black and Latino applicants. "We want to make sure that everyone has a real authentic opportunity to participate in that economy in the future," said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. "If not, we start to lose the fabric and soul of our community. And then social inequity becomes greater, becomes vaster, and we can't allow that to happen. We're a pro-growth community, but we want to make sure regular folks are able to participate in that."...
To be a model for others, Samura and his wife Leah created a recreational marijuana business called 612 Studios. For months they've been coming to a massive marijuana cultivation facility in Milford, Mass., to participate in The Sira Accelerator, a 12-week program designed to get more people of color into the industry by doing everything from raising money, to helping with marketing, packaging and distribution.
This program is run by Sira Naturals, which grows marijuana and creates products for its own medical dispensaries and some other recreational businesses. Mike Dundas, Sira Naturals' CEO, said the company wants to help longtime marijuana advocates, like the Samuras, or folks who have been dabbling in the illegal pot market. "We see our program, the Sira Accelerator, as sort of offering a hand to those who've been operating — and have skill and passion and dedication to cannabis products — in the illicit marketplace, to come to the regulated side, to get on the books and help facilitate the start of their businesses," said Dundas.
In return for the advice and counsel, Sira takes just under a 10 percent stake in the new company. Sira also hopes the accelerator will help it open a recreational shop in Somerville, where it already runs one of three medical dispensaries. The company can't get a recreational license until black or Latino entrepreneurs do because of the city's ordinance. Dundas, who is white, admits he's scrambling to find and mentor people of color who want to open businesses in Somerville to ensure that his company can open a retail shop of its own.
Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said there have been lots of attempts around the country to help candidates from black and Latino communities, but none have worked. "None of the states have the kind of diversity that we would like to see in the cannabis industry," she said....
"States moving forward are going to look at what happened in Massachusetts," O'Keefe said, "why such good intentions didn't end up bearing as much fruit and as much diversity in the industry as was intended."
UPDATE: Not long after this posting I saw that USA Today has an even fuller discussion of these issues in this new article headlined "Drug laws have historically been racist. Marijuana activists are helping minority dealers go legal." Here is a small piece of a long article worth reading in full:
The war on drugs has for decades disproportionately devastated minority communities by punishing people like Blunt and creating a cycle of poverty, incarceration and limited employment options, legal and social justice experts say.
Now, lawmakers and legalization advocates across the country are demanding not just cannabis legalization but remedies to address decades of demonstrably racist policing, from laws that automatically expunge criminal records for marijuana dealing and possession to policies that would give minority communities assistance in building cannabis businesses....
For many marijuana legalization activists, it's now up to local governments to diversify the legal pot industry by clearing conviction records and handing out subsidies. If white men have unfairly benefited from marijuana legalization, then it's only fair that minority communities be given extra help now because they suffered more, the thinking goes.
"We actually do have to overcorrect," said Kassandra Frederique, 32, the New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is lobbying to legalize marijuana in the Empire State. "People from our communities, black and brown communities, were the one first ones to be criminalized. Why shouldn’t we be the first ones to benefit?"