America has always been the land of opportunity and, thanks to the budding cannabis industry, that’s still the case. There’s just one problem, legal marijuana and diversity should go together like dab with a pipe, but instead, they’re worlds apart.
“Anyone that wants to join the industry can. Yes, there are a lot of Caucasian entrepreneurs, and they are the predominate race, but I don’t see anyone explicitly trying to keep anyone else out,” says Shen.
The Drug Policy Alliance estimates that less than one percent of the legal market is owned or operated by a person of color. It’s a startling statistic especially considering the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the arrests for cannabis possession happen in communities of color.
So, why is it that way?
“There are three reasons I feel for the lack of ownership and employment for minorities,” explains Jesce Horton, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA).
- Marijuana Policies: It’s difficult to obtain a cannabis business license. For example, to run a medical marijuana dispensary in New York, 4Front Advisors estimates the total capital and operating cost to be between $15 million and $30 million over the first year. That’s a lot of money for anyone, but it’s especially high for a person of color considering the fact that white households represent 96.1% of the top one percent of earners in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.
- Cannabis Education: Overall, there is a lack of education about cannabis—including debunking the negative perceptions—but there is also a lack of education about how to get into the cannabis industry. Before the industry can be more diverse, organizations such as the MCBA and others have to make knowledge available to anyone who wants it.
- The Cannabis Taboo: “Look at my family,” says Horton. “My dad was imprisoned for cannabis, so he didn’t want me to get into the industry because he didn’t want me to get arrested.” And Horton’s father isn’t the only one with this perception. Most minorities have to make a 180-degree shift in their viewpoint to accept cannabis.
However, all of that isn’t to say that the cannabis community isn’t welcoming and trying to be more diverse. In fact, according to Seibo Shen, CEO of VapeXhale, the cannabis industry is very inclusive.
“Anyone that wants to join the industry can. Yes, there are a lot of Caucasian entrepreneurs, and they are the predominate race, but I don’t see anyone explicitly trying to keep anyone else out,” says Shen. “Everyone has been extremely friendly to me, and I haven’t had any problems.”
And Horton agrees. “Outside of realizing that there aren’t a lot of people of color within the cannabis industry, my experience has been great,” he states. “People have been very helpful.”
And the industry is constantly moving forward to embrace anyone and everyone. In fact, recently, the MCBA partnered with Marley Natural for the Rise Up Oregon Expungement Day, which helped dozens of individuals—primarily people of color—expunge their cannabis arrest records within just a few hours. And throughout 2017, the MCBA plans to hold even more events and webinars to bring awareness to the diversity issues within cannabis and to make a change.
“Things are never perfect in the beginning but pointing fingers at people that are trying to improve diversity is not a great way to solve the problem,” says Shen. “Instead of pointing fingers, we need to be working together. If you want to see more people of color or women within cannabis, do something about it.”
“People of color and minorities need to take a lot of responsibility on ourselves to be at the table when cannabis decisions are made,” agrees Horton. “Cannabis regulations are being set arbitrarily. They’re not seeking information about diversity, but we’re also not stepping forward and making sure we’re at the table. We’re the ones that have the ability to bring diversity to the industry.”