Cannabis Equality from the Green Revolution

Cannabis Equality from the Green Revolution

The US marijuana business, regardless of the forces of evil in Washington that would destroy it, has become a booming, multibillion-dollar participant in the economy. Soon, eight states will be fully legalized–not to mention Washington, DC, itself–and there are more on the way. With cannabis production and distribution morphing to a nationally venture, opportunities abound in the green revolution. But before we celebrate, we need to face a genuine concern: Will people of color and other minorities be left to the surface of the cannabis economy looking in?

The War on Drugs: A Racist Enterprise

It is estimated that only around 1 percent of legal cannabis businesses are owned or operated by minorities. The barriers that prevent inclusion are deeply ingrained–one may say they are systemic–and overcoming them is a formidable challenge. Fortunately, there are groups devoted to the proposition that, while all men (and women) are created equal, there is work to be done to really level the playing field of green that is expanding before our eyes.

Drug-law enforcement has ever targeted minorities, though we’ve known for a long time that drug usage is fairly equal across cultural groups. It would be a terrible irony if the green revolution doesn’t mature into an inclusive venture that redresses, to the extent it could, the inequities that defined prohibition.

“We have to consider the fact we’re taking jobs away from these folks on the street who have been arrested,” states Kayvan Khalatbari, a Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) board member (and, as it happens, a High Times Holding Corp. shareholder). “They’re having trouble with more conventional jobs, employment, housing, things like that. We’ve taken away their tasks of selling cannabis and we’re not giving them an opportunity to take part in the regulated sector. ”

Because racial biases are so often an emergent property of a free marketplace, affirmative action to address discriminatory practices is usually driven from nonprofit interests, like the MCBA, whose mission is “to create equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients and the communities most affected by the war on drugs. ”

While drug use is rather uniform across racial lines, for some reason people of color are arrested and convicted at higher rates than white offenders. Provisions in Prop. 64 are intended to decrease the sentences of pot-law violators retroactively to 1996, when the state made medical pot legal. California cities are developing their own plans to be more inclusive, and less punitive.

Los Angeles, which will soon become the biggest recreational-cannabis market in the world, is working on regulations intended to mitigate the blatantly racist effects of the Drug War.

“For so long, people that were black, people that were Latino, we’ve paid the price for this business,” City Council President Herb Wesson told the Los Angeles Times following a recent community forum in Watts. “And as we move this to the legal realm, it’s important to us that we’ve got a bit of the action. ”

Because local authorities in the Golden State are prohibited from giving preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity, mitigation efforts have to be framed as a means to address poverty and help the victims of the failed War on Drugs. The proposed LA regulations would help the poor who were convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses and their families, as well as those who simply live in neighborhoods that were slammed by marijuana arrests. The city will also dangle incentives in front of well-off cannabusinesses, offering tax rebates when they help out disadvantaged entrepreneurs.

San Francisco is also sorting out its regulations–specifically, a way to incorporate an equity program that will boost inclusion–in anticipation of the recreational market, but it’s doubtful they’ll be codified by January 1, when Prop. 64 takes effect. City Supervisor Jeff Sheehy introduced a legislative proposal in September, and even he said “it needs more work. ” The city is looking east, across the bay to Oakland, for guidance.

Oakland politicians looked at a number of potential equity plans before deciding to set aside half of the city’s permits for low-income residents (people who make less than 80 percent of the local median income) who was convicted of a small weed crime or had lived at least 10 years at a neighborhood targeted for drug enforcement. While Oakland is the first in the nation to develop an equity program, San Francisco might build on it to make it more inclusive–perhaps by using cannabis tax revenue to bolster communities hit by the Drug War, or by requiring each cannabusiness to submit equity plans of their own.

Mike DiPaola

Beyond the municipal government initiatives, groups such as the Hood Incubator ( are devoted to helping “underground cannabis entrepreneurs” make the transition into legal markets. We caught up with Hood Incubator co-founder and political manager Lanese Martin in a recent New West Summit in downtown Oakland. Martin, an intense and energetic woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, states disparities in legal cannabis have their origins in a marketplace that was prohibited not so long ago.

“Because of the War on Drugs, black folks, unlike white folks, weren’t creating business plans, keeping receipts, putting on suits or going to their elected officials to lobby,” Martin declares. “We’re still keeping in the shadows and hoping to not be persecuted and sought out by law enforcement, so we’re a little bit behind in the regions of mature businesses. But we’re not behind in getting clients or in innovation in product development, so we need to catch that, and community planning is key. ”

“Without our interference, without our disruption, the legalization could turn in the re-criminalization of brown and black communities,” Martin says. “Or, a sexier method of putting it, the War on Drugs 2.0. ”

Entering the Legal Cannabis Space Throughout Expungement

For many, step one in the transition to the legal marijuana trade is expungement, the erasing of a criminal record in places where the initial offense–selling marijuana without hurting anybody–is no longer considered a crime. The MCBA ( has been conducting expungement clinics across the nation–in Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland, OR, with Denver and the East Coast scheduled for their own soon–with help from local law firms. A typical clinic will see a pool of potential applicants prescreened to determine if they qualify for expungement, then paired with attorneys to guide them through the paperwork. The legal help is usually free or at reduced rate, and the various fees are paid by sponsors. “A lot of people don’t know they could expunge,” states the MCBA’s Khalatbari, “and it’s very expensive. ”

The perfect expungement erases the original “offense,” with related penalties or penalties rescinded, and the expungement itself expunged. Among the incidental side benefits of the green revolution, done properly, is that it could at least mitigate some of the injustices done in the name of the War on Drugs.

Supernova Girls ( is just another East Bay nonprofit dedicated to fostering inclusion in the cannabis business, or as the group puts it, “to empower our people to develop into self-sufficient shareholders from the evolving cannabis economy. ” Not content merely to take on systemic racism, Supernova battles sexism at every turn also. ”

“Let’s say you’re a manufacturer or cultivator attempting to sell your merchandise,” states Supernova co-founder Amber Senter, “you’re going to be dealing with white buyers, probably a man, and there’s occasionally issues. There’s certainly a good-old-boy network that happens just naturally in every business, and cannabis is no exception. You’ve got to figure out how to kind of break into that. ”

Senter says such blunt talk doesn’t necessarily sit well with everyone in attendance. ’” Senter shakes her head. “Many people can’t stand hearing what we’re saying because they take it as a personal assault. ”

Mike DiPaola

When asked about fostering minority inclusion in the cannabis economy, a white male cannabusiness owner in Oakland provided an anonymous response that was indicative of a certain mindset. He believed it was wrong to push for diversity since affirmative action that favored minorities would distill the talent pool with individuals who may not be as qualified as those left out. He was not a fan of expunging criminal records of former bud dealers. “Do we really want criminals in this business? ”

There’s a good deal of myopia in these sentiments. It is the cannabis-space equivalent of announcing that “all resides matter” as a retort to the harsh reality that people of color are disproportionately the victims of police brutality. The most charitable interpretation one can muster is that such individuals mean well, possibly.

She says the stigma of marijuana from the black community, specifically as it affects her 19-year-old with sickle-cell disease, motivated her to act. He’s just a child who has a medical condition who can benefit from cannabis, and that’s why I founded the organization. ”

That stigma is ever-present, even as McCarthy brings a message of economic opportunity to the black community. “One thing we’re trying to teach people of colour: You don’t have to touch the plant to thrive in this business. Those ancillary services–accounting, marketing, what have you–create chances. Tap into your passion because there’s a need. ”

While advocacy organizations are new to the scene, they are proving to be invaluable, since it’s no easy thing to simply legislate our way out of racial disparities in the market. Witness Florida, which earmarked one of its 10 new medical-pot grow licenses for an African American farmer. The state stipulated that the farmer needed to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, but that restriction has cut out the many unaffiliated growers from contention, including Columbus Smith, a farmer from Panama City, who is suing the state. Per the lawsuit, “There is not any rational basis for limiting the opportunity of black farmers to get a medical marijuana license to just the few members of that class of black farmers who are also members of a particular private association. ”

Other states are grappling with the dilemma of equity with varying degrees of success. Maryland’s medical-pot rollout promised, by law, to seek “racial, cultural and geographical diversity” in awarding the first 15 cultivation licenses in 2016, but in the end, none of the approved applications were from African American owners. The state’s Legislative Black Caucus is pressing the General Assembly to pass a bill that expands the medical-cannabis sector to include African American firms. A bill prepared by the caucus chairwoman is slated to be released on the first day the Assembly reconvenes, January 10.

Ohio requires that 15 percent of its permits visit economically disadvantaged minority groups–blacks, Hispanics, Asians or Native Americans–but it remains to be seen how well these groups are finally represented or even whether the requirement itself will withstand legal challenges.

Things do not look great in Pennsylvania, where black people are arrested for marijuana violations at roughly eight times the rate that whites do, according to a recent report by that state’s division of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is calling for complete legalization to address this inequity, and the state’s Democratic Party recently adopted this position on its platform. Presently, the Keystone State has a restricted medical-pot program set to start in early 2018. Twelve companies won permits to grow and, even though the nation was the first in the country to include a diversity requirement, African-American-owned grows failed to score high enough to win a spot at the table. Since application prices reached as high as $750,000 per–for fees, lawyers, consultants, architects and so on–one can see how exclusion of disadvantaged groups is baked to the procedure.

Massachusetts looks to bring people to the nascent legal marketplace who have been harmed by drug enforcement. To address financial and other barriers to cannabusiness possession, Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley has drafted legislation (in collaboration with the MCBA) that could direct 20 percent of unexpended revenue from marijuana taxes to equity programs. “If you say you’re committed to addressing the growing wealth gap and earnings inequality, we have to ensure equity in ownership and enterprise,” Pressley told Boston Public Radio. “This is an opportunity for us to establish a blueprint. ”

Ways to be Part of the Solution

1 way for customers to support minority businesses is to buy their products. There are organizations that track black-owned businesses, such as, which has showcased cannabis professionals worthy of attention and sponsorship. Because of the way information is shared nowadays, consumers can easily research whom they need to work with.

There’ s another way to be part of the solution. “If you see something, say something,” advises the MCBA’s Khalatbari. In other words, when you attend a cannabis conference or a public panel or some other weed-themed collecting, and you notice that the participants or positions of leadership are overwhelmingly, uh, monochromatic, begin the conversation.

It is reassuring to see service–from activists, voters and (a few) legislators–for a more inclusive cannabis space. There’s no guarantee that a mature business will be as varied as it could be (as diverse as the nation itself, by way of instance), but with just a little supervision and vigilance, we could place the path in that direction.

This feature has been published in High Times’ magazine, subscribe right here.

Published at Wed, 16 May 2018 16:00:49 +0000

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