On weed, whitewashing and how the cannabis industry must work to create more opportunities for women and people of color
“Whiter than a Wonder Bread-and-mayonnaise-sandwich served with a side of whole milk.”
How white is the green rush? Extremely white. Ridiculously white. Whiter than a Wonder Bread-and-mayonnaise sandwich served with a side of whole milk. Whiter than new teeth. Whiter than the Gods of Egypt movie. Hella white.
And I’m not alone in thinking this. Consider Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: “Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big—big money, big businesses selling weed—after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed. Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?” Exactly.
Then there’s a recent Buzzfeed article, which reported that blacks own just 1 percent of all of the cannabis dispensaries in the United States. 1. Percent.
This number is shocking—and more than a little bit offensive. The cannabis industry must work to create more opportunities for people of color.
How? I am glad you asked. There are a few things already happening. The Minority Cannabis Business Association (www.minoritycannabis.org, I’m on the board) has been working to expand opportunities for women and people of color. The National Cannabis Industry Association has started an “Inclusion Initiative” (http://thecannabisindustry.org/member-benefits/inclusion-initiative) to “work with under-represented groups and individuals, who seek access to join or expand their reach within the legal cannabis industry in the United States of America.” Fancy words, and I hope they create a great program.
I would like to see cannabis business conferences offer low-cost or no-cost entry to women and POC. These conferences often cost hundreds of dollars to attend, creating yet another barrier to networking and creating business relationships. The state isn’t doing much to help, either. California’s new Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act, or MMRSA, is set up so that individuals with felony convictions for the sale, possession for sale, manufacture, transportation or cultivation of a controlled substance can be denied licenses by the state to distribute medical cannabis. (Unless you are pot activist Steve DeAngelo.)
This part of the law is a tad ironic, seeing as California passed a “Ban the Box” law that restricts employers from asking prospective employees about past convictions two years ago.
MMRSA does allow for people to maybe get a permit, after they have jumped through a bunch of extra administrative hoops. But why should people have to do more work—and spend more time and money—simply because they were targeted by an unfair law? MMRSA automatically puts some people that would be great at running a cannabis-based business at an immediate disadvantage.
Dr. Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, told this writer that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act initiative, likely on November’s ballot, has no restrictions on nonviolent drug felons, and would designate up to $50 million per year toward job training and community redevelopment. She also told me that Oakland insists that 50 percent of all dispensary employees live in the city, and they offer incentives for clubs to hire people from census tracts that have been most affected by the war on drugs. The Oak Park gentrification project needs to get a program like this in place ASAP.
If the goal of the cannabis-legalization movement is to end the black market and provide jobs and tax revenue, then there needs to be a concerted effort to make sure that everyone has access to the tools and programs that will put them in a position to be successful. This is not just the right thing to do; studies also show that culturally diverse businesses make more money.
Like Steve DeAngelo says: Diversity shouldn’t be seen as an obligation. It should be seen as a strength.