Creating valuable business opportunities for groups historically impacted by Cannabis Prohibition is necessary to sustaining a thriving and diverse Medical Cannabis Industry.

 

The path toward regulating Medical Cannabis has evolved slowly through the efforts of legislators and constituents in an effort to end the War on Drugs. However, Ethnic Minorities, Women, and other segments of society have felt the raw impact of the enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs. Along with the implementation of sensible Cannabis laws, these communities can help support a balanced and represented Industry through willful participation.

Aside from the negative connotations associated with Cannabis Prohibition, the issue with encouraging participation by these groups involves transitioning the black market workforce into the legal Cannabis Industry. While Advocates may push for policies that provide underrepresented groups a path towards a career in the Medical Cannabis Industry, the current state of this Industry is majority white male dominated.

The Medical Cannabis Industry is challenged with encouraging greater participation by communities of color in the legal Cannabis in order to transform our culture’s perspective relating to Cannabis. In this post, Mora Mota Group will explore the issues facing marginalized groups in the Cannabis Industry, how we can bridge the gap for these groups, and what action is being done to remedy this situation in order prevent future similar disparities.

 

Disproportionately Impacted Groups of Cannabis Prohibition

Ethnic Minorities

Hispanics, Mexican-Americans and African-Americans alike have faced high levels of scrutiny from their own communities and the negative stigma associated with the Prohibition of Cannabis. While many States across the Country continue to establish the most progressive Cannabis laws in modern history, a significant challenge in this transition is embracing the roles of disproportionately impacted individuals in the legal Cannabis Industry.

As laws change in various jurisdictions, there are limited opportunities for businesses to operate in legal markets, and currently, the balance of ownership has been heavily dominated by majority white-owned companies. While this demographic has been the least scrutinized by the War on Drugs, there’s been ample opportunity for these individuals to capitalize on the emerging legal Industry. To illustrate this disparity, an estimated 1% of legal Cannabis Dispensaries are owned or operated by people of color, while traditional businesses owned by people of color nationally is estimated at 15%.

A major reason for the imbalance of ownership among demographics include the high barriers to entry, as there are costs associated with filing an application, obtaining and renewing an operating license, as well as the operating expenses associated with running a Medical Cannabis venture. These expenses can grow to well over six-figures and make it extremely difficult for minorities to gain ownership in this Industry.

As traditional financing options and federal business programs that promote minority business ownership continue to shy away from this Industry, the status of the Industry will become more segmented if opportunities for participation are limited. With the stigma associated with drug use in these communities and the legal barriers for individuals with criminal backgrounds to enter this Industry, there is unnecessary pressure on individuals looking to enter or participate in this Industry.

 

Women

As one of the fastest growing segments of the prison population over the past three decades, Women, especially Women of color, have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. Black Women are more than twice as likely, and 25% of Latina women more likely, to be incarcerated than white women, despite similar possession and use rates in these communities.

In the event they receive a drug conviction, there is also the increased pressure and feelings of isolation by as they are challenged with coping with the consequences: denial of voting rights, federal grants for college, or other forms of public assistance due to their criminal history. Women have also been indirect victims of the War on Drugs as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives of incarcerated men who were swept up by our Country's draconian drug policy.

Despite these alarming statistics, there is good news as Women comprise 36% of all Executive-level positions in the Cannabis Industry, while the average of all U.S. businesses hovers around 22%. Look to see as Women in C-Suite Executive positions from other Industries moving into lateral positions in the Cannabis Industry as more States elect to pass progressive Cannabis laws.

 

Other Groups

While a glaring disparity of representation is expressed on the gender and demographic sides in this Industry, there are other segments of our society being overlooked in this evolving debate. Disabled Americans, Students and non-violent Cannabis convicts who would benefit from greater representation in the Cannabis Industry and the end of Cannabis Prohibition overall.

With the Prohibition of Cannabis, Disabled Americans, especially Veterans, Seniors, and Children with debilitating diseases, have been denied access to the alternative treatment options provided by medical cannabis for decades. Respecting these needs at the Federal and State levels would create opportunities for better medical treatment and improved health care for these sensitive populations.

As the group most susceptible to our Country’s drug policy programs, Students have been the subject of priority for continuing our failed War on Drugs. Enabling a culture that creates a “School to Prison” pipeline in our most vulnerable communities disregards the original mission to protect our children in this debate. Its imperative to educate our citizens on the facts surrounding Cannabis use and its effects on our communities can go a long way to instilling trust in Law Enforcement.

In attempting to transition from a black market to a regulated one, there should be room on the agenda for reentry into society for ex-cons convicted of non-violent Cannabis convictions. In our Country, having a criminal record immediately labels you as a second-rate citizen, and being a minority significantly compounds the issue. Repairing this dichotomy is pivotal to improving trust in the underrepresented communities and evolving our priorities when dealing with the War on Drugs.

 

Evolving Opportunity

Despite numerous issues involved in progressing Cannabis Policy in our Country, it is imperative that underrepresented groups are allowed active participation in this changing Industry. Advocates and Congressmen in legal Cannabis States continue to push progressive policies to address the impropriety felt by segments of our society impacted most by the War on Drugs. With the establishment of the Bipartisan Cannabis Caucus in Washington, D.C., there is more momentum at the Federal level than ever before.

 

Embracing Diversity in the Application Process

One way emerging Medical Cannabis States are allowing for increased opportunity is by implementing Diversity Plans in their Application Process. For example, Pennsylvania requires Applicants to provide plans for balanced representation of Minorities, Women, Veterans and Disabled individuals in their businesses that includes the methods for tracking this data over time.

In other States, there is a lottery-based application process implemented to select Licensees at random in order to distribute operating licenses. This feature helps to level the playing field by increasing the chance for Small Businesses and Startups to acquire an operating license among stronger applicants from established markets.

In rare circumstances, there are local jurisdictions creating a unique opportunity to include individuals with criminal records. For example, Oakland, CA has implemented regulations that will reserve licenses specifically for ex-convicts of Cannabis crimes; in another Medical Cannabis jurisdiction, Applicant’s previous Cannabis charges will not be considered when applying for a license. The decision by these local municipalities to allow individuals with criminal records to participate in ownership positions is a positive signal that other communities should embrace.

 

Embracing Diversity in National Organizations

While there is limited representation for the Cannabis Industry, there are select minority-focused organizations representing these groups with a national presence. The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is an emerging national organization that was created to increase diversity within the Cannabis Industry. The MCBA's mission is devoted to attracting well-versed Cannabis Advocates from across the nation help to represent the interest of Minorities in the Cannabis Industry.

Women Grow is a young but well-represented group, with Chapters located in nearly every major city across our Country. Their organization is is dedicated to connecting, educating and empowering the next-generation of Women in the Cannabis Industry. Supporting and embracing all genders in this nascent Industry is essential in bridging the gap that has emerged in legal Cannabis markets.

Additionally, Student for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a grassroots organization of Student-led Chapters in over 300 Colleges and Universities across the World, helping to represent and protect the future interests of young adults in the War on Drugs. SSDP organizes campaigns that range from changing campus policies such as “Call 911 Good Samaritan” to increased access to harm reduction tools, and even advocating for State, Federal, and Global Policy changes to our enforcement of drug laws.

 

Action in the Industry

MCBA Policy Summit

Although a significant amount of groundwork is conducted by various grassroots and Non-Profits, little impact has been made in directing the conversation forward. However, on November 11, 2016, the MCBA held their first Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., in order to address two major questions relating to the involvement of Minorities within the Cannabis conversation: how to erase the discriminatory effects of Cannabis-related prosecutions, convictions and stigmatization, and how to promote the participation of Minorities and Women in legal Cannabis Commerce?

On March 10, 2017, the MCBA introduced a 27-page Model Bill to guide policymakers and Advocates in promoting Cannabis Legislation. The Bill was constructed with express provisions to (1) remedy disparate burdens placed on communities of color in the enforcement of Cannabis Prohibition, (2) prevent future similar disparities, and (3) encourage participation in the legal Cannabis Industry by communities of color.

The pending challenge facing Cannabis Advocates is to contrive an effective strategy to continue the progress made by the various States. Under the Obama Administration, an emphasis was made on the corrosive effect on civil liberties and the unnecessary conflict created between law enforcement and affected communities to mitigate enforcement by Federal Agencies.

Under the new Federal Administration, developing a strategy to support the “America First” promises will be necessary. As the experiments in legal Medical and Recreational Cannabis States mature, the legalization statistics show that regulating Cannabis directly takes away money and power out of the hands of International Drug Cartels and redirects black market revenue to the government to help protect American jobs.

 

Conclusion

While the slow and exhausting campaign to end Cannabis Prohibition sweeps across our Country, there needs to be a concerted effort to balance diversity in these legalized markets. There needs to be equal access to ownership, employment, and services provided to other Industries, and this reality must be addressed at the forefront of this burgeoning Industry. it is imperative to put our legislators on notice and signal to the rest of society that evolving our position on this issue improves our Society for the better.

 

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