Attend any of the conferences or trade shows springing up in the emerging legalized recreational and medical marijuana space, and one thing you’ll notice is an absence of racial diversity. Why?
There are a number of possible explanations for the comparatively low number of minorities participating in the space, including, high start-up costs and restricted access to capital, especially given the reluctance of commercial banks to enter the fray, and limited political ties in a highly politicized system. Those reasons alone could be creating barriers for minorities to enter the market as owners and investors.
However, there is a clear reason African-Americans may be disenfranchised with respect to the cannabis space, and that is inherently discriminatory cannabis regulations that may be preventing African-Americans from ownership and investing, but, even more importantly, are unquestionably barring African-Americans from obtaining jobs in the cannabis space.
In particular, most states that have legalized cannabis for recreational and/or medical use have included in their legislation strict requirements that owners, investors and employees in cannabis growing, processing and dispensing operations not have a criminal record, especially marijuana possession offenses. Because African-Americans are almost 3.75 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, these restrictions appear to be a gating issue that is keeping African-Americans out of the space.
At the same time, the cannabis industry is creating thousands of new jobs in the US each year, and is projected to continue to do so. In fact, one analyst (New Frontier Data) has determined that the cannabis industry in Colorado has resulted in 18,000 new jobs since 2014, and projects the US cannabis industry will create approximately 280,000 new jobs by 2020.
Given the potential for the cannabis industry to employ so many, and the disparate rate at which African-Americans are arrested for marijuana possession, it is obvious that states should reconsider regulations that make marijuana possession offenses a bar to employment in the legal marijuana industry. If those changes are not made, a mature cannabis industry may be saddled with the same institutional racial discrimination that plagues almost all other industries.
Because of the federal prohibition of cannabis, the cannabis space is unlike a new business idea or development in an established industry that has become institutionalized. It has an opportunity to emerge without discriminatory restraints that have become the norm. Hopefully, those involved in establishing the cannabis space will make an early effort to protect it from being another source of disenfranchisement for minorities.