The Green Wave is sweeping across the United States of America with the legalization of recreational marijuana in addition to medicinal marijuana. The cannabis craze has seen recreational marijuana legalized in 11 states while 22 other states have some law legalizing the medical use of marijuana. While this would seem to be cause for celebration on the surface, there is an ugly side to the legalization of marijuana. Minorities and business owners of color are not seeing the full benefits of legalization, despite being one of the demographics who should, in theory, benefit the most from it.
The War On Drugs Disproportionately Targets POC
One of the main arguments for the legalization of recreational marijuana from advocates was to call an end to the costly and ineffective War on Drugs that has been waged since the early 1970s. Decriminalization is incredibly important seeing as over 8 million people have been arrested on marijuana charges over the last 20 years, the bulk of whom were people of color. The War on Drugs isn’t just an abject failure but has always been and continues to this day to be a concerted attack on communities of color.
While it is true that business owners and communities of color stand to benefit and profit from the legalization of recreational marijuana and legal marijuana derivatives like CBD oil, the fact of the matter is that it simply isn’t happening at the rate it should. When recreational marijuana becomes legalized in any area, the appropriate thing would be to immediately overturn any non-violent marijuana convictions in that area. While Illinois has done this properly, cities like Los Angeles and Denver have taken far too long to begin the process of overturning convictions, leaving many people of color sitting in prison while white business owners reap profits off of the plant that put them there.
The targeting of communities of color for marijuana arrests doesn’t stop when legalization happens either. Even in states where recreational marijuana is legal, there are still stark racial disparities in the number of arrests and convictions related to marijuana. While there has been an overall drop in arrests, black citizens are still disproportionately targeted for arrest, sending a clear message that the establishment believes that marijuana is certainly legal if you have the right skin tone.
Owners Of Color Edged Out Of The Market
This issue of inequality extends into business ownership for people of color as well. Even though cities like Los Angeles and Chicago have programs in place to help those affected by the War on Drugs to obtain dispensary licenses, the programs are often bogged down or taken advantage of by white business owners. In LA, minority business owners find themselves on waiting lists for dispensary licenses indefinitely while white business owners seize onto the booming profits. In Chicago, a legal loophole allows white-owned businesses to apply for a license through its “Social Equity Applicant” program when they recruit token minorities as minor stakeholders.
Unfortunately, the majority of business owners of color who want to break into the legal recreational marijuana industry lack the capital of high profile celebrities like Snoop Dogg, who launched his own marijuana brand in 2015. Equity and capital are huge hurdles for business owners of color, and they are often beat to the punch by white-owned and operated marijuana businesses when it comes to getting licenses, leasing property in prime areas, et cetera.
This edging out of minority business owners is a massive mistake in the long run for these cities and states. Minority small business owners are the future face of business in the US and their presence in the marijuana industry will only help to increase its profitability. In 2012 alone, 8 million minority-owned businesses created 7.2 million jobs and generated $1.38 trillion dollars in revenue, and denying them the opportunity to participate in a brand new sector of business is as irresponsible and shortsighted as it is racist.
Little Is Being Done To Address The Gap
Perhaps one of the reasons we see so little action involving allowing business owners of color to own and operate cannabis dispensaries is the same reason we see inaction regarding the overturning of non-violent marijuana convictions. America’s prison systems are simply an updated form of slavery and the War on Drugs has kept a steady flow of minorities going into it for the last 50 years. We aren’t seeing as much opportunity presented to minority-rich communities or minority-owned businesses largely due to the fact that America is reticent to finally and unequivocally abolish slavery.
With the system doing little to address the disparate effects that the legalization of marijuana has on minority communities, the communities themselves have taken it upon themselves to support each other in business. Non-profit organizations like the Hood Incubator work to make headway for minorities looking to become cannabis entrepreneurs by offering crash courses in networking and business. The ultimate goal is to increase advocacy, reconfigure policy, and spur economic development for the minority groups that have suffered the most during marijuana prohibition. The key to making the Green Wave work for minorities is to take action if you are able and advocate and lobby for the legal and structural changes that need to take place. Complacency is not an option, and we cannot allow for the further exploitation of minorities to occur in the modern era. Marijuana legalization should not benefit the white ruling class over the minorities that have been thrown into the legal meat grinder at disproportionate levels for decades. We need to lift up business owners of color and the communities they serve, and recreational marijuana might just be the best way to do so.